Unique Arts School Invites Public In For London Open House Weekend

By Tara Booth | 17 September 2008
An image of the external face of the building which has brick pillars between large panes of glass.

The building is situated on 19-22 Charlotte Street in the design hub of Shoreditch, London.

In the run up to the London Open Houses weekend on September 20 and 21 2008, Tara Booth visits an innovative art school that successfully mixes eastern and western art in a Victorian warehouse in Shoreditch.

London’s annual Open House Weekend is just around the corner, but with over 700 properties open to the public, this is one place that should feature high up on your list.

Tucked away on a side street in the trendy design hub of London’s Shoreditch, this restored Victorian warehouse is home to tasteful juxtapositions of old versus new and east versus west.

Despite its impressive interior, it’s easy to walk past this building without a second glance; its terraced brick face and large windows blend in with the rest of the buildings on the street.

However, on the inside, the building is filled with history, culture, art and most of all, real character.

An image of the exhibition space with wooden floorboards and bricked walls. There are two exhibition boards which display posters of landscapes and buildings. In the centre is a glass box on a wooden table with a wooden structure of a building inside.

On entering the building, there is a huge space available for exhibitions and galleries.

The place is home to three organisations under The Prince’s Charities: The Prince’s School for Traditional Arts, The Prince’s School for the Built Environment and the Prince’s Drawing School.

The School for Traditional Arts is an organisation that specialises in teaching art skills that have been dropped from, or do not feature on, UK university syllabuses.

HRH Prince of Wales is patron to the school. It became part of The Prince’s Charities in 1993 because of his fundamental belief in the importance of preserving the world’s sacred and traditional art forms.

Traditional craftsmanship plus the cultural and symbolic meaning of the art are the principal factors of the school’s philosophy and they pride themselves on breaking down barriers of different cultures and celebrating them. Eastern aesthetics are most evident in the school, particularly from India, Pakistan and Africa.

The postgraduate degrees and short courses provided by the school offer students the chance to study and practise traditional art skills from around the globe including Indian miniature painting, stained glass, mosaic craft, woodwork and ceramics.

An image of a wooden frame with colourful ceramic tiles. The ceramic tilies have a blue, green, red and white pattern to it.

This ceramic art by student Hana Hijazi won the Jerwood Prize For Traditional Art 2008

On entering the building, it is evident how the huge space is a blessing for artists exhibiting their work. The original pillars and the exposed brickwork lends itself to the creative atmosphere and it’s easy to imagine visitors awed by the space and the gallery.

“We get the wow factor from people,” says Office Manager Margot Stone. “It’s a peaceful environment with huge amounts of natural light and space which helps towards a studious atmosphere.”

She adds: “It is more comfortable than modern offices. Although it is sometimes a challenge being in a building that wasn’t purposefully built for what we do. But the architects made a good job of fitting it for modern purposes while retaining the original charm.”

The building was originally built as a furniture factory with ground-floor showrooms, fitting in with the industrial hub of what Shoreditch used to be famous for.

An image of a skeleton held up by a pole with a black hat on its head.

A skeleton, complete with hat, greets people as they exit the lift on the top floor.

By the late 1990s, it became one of the last remaining intact Victorian industrial buildings not arranged for residential loft development. And when it came on the market, the second floor encompassed an enormous fridge used to store hundreds of fur coats while the ground floor was home to a photographic studio - with artists regularly camping on the top floor.

In 1998 the organisation, which then incorporated The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, began the search for premises that better reflected their philosophy of urban regeneration.

The redesign of the entire building was a combined effort between HRH Prince of Wales, Foundation of the Built Environment staff and Trustees. Fitting in with their ethos of urban regeneration, the architects were instructed to work around the original features and pay particular attention to the use of natural and sustainable materials.

An image of the large windows with the view of the buildings outside.

The windows were restored to the same design the warehouse had before.

Today, eight years after the organisation moved to the site, many aspects of the original warehouse are intact and play a major role in the ambience of the building. Timber floorboards, which were stripped and re-used, feature throughout the building marked with years of use.

The exposed brickwork is a common theme right the way through and the large windows, which were replaced with the same pattern as the old, let in huge amounts of natural light – a fine attribute for the many art students who work there.

An image of the top floor with statues of a man and woman in the centre. Around the statues there are rolls of paper and black and white sketches. In the far right corner is a bright red settee and it all sits underneath timber beams.

The top floor houses The Prince's Drawing School.

Of all the five floors, including the print-room basement, the top floor is by far the most intriguing. It’s an open-plan lecture and studio space for the Prince’s Drawing School sheltered by an exposed timber roof-structure with inserted skylights to allow further natural light into the space. But what makes the end of a perfect tour, are the views overlooking the rooftops of Shoreditch.

The remaining floors incorporate an architecture library, meeting rooms and art desks available for the students. Artworks from previous students decorate the walls on the journey down the contemporary steel staircase and it is clear how natural the combination of old versus new and east versus west, interact and compliment one another.

An image of the print room. There is a large old fashioned blue wheel in the centre with desks behind it. Many pipes are visible on the ceiling and a ceramic face is just visible on a shelf above the blue wheel.

The print room is in the basement of the building.

It’s a fantastic building filled with quirky gems that will satisfy the most experienced architect. But on another level it epitomises the philosophy of recycling and regeneration while retaining the charm and history of older London.

Margot is certainly excited about opening the doors for the public during the Open House Weekend. “We hope to raise the profile of the organisation,” she says. “Although we’re in Shoreditch, we are closed away from the main street so we hope to generate interest and encourage people to experience the space.”

“We hope that this urban regeneration project can influence others so it can be achieved elsewhere.”

An image of a white frame with blue and white coloured tiles inside. It is a rectangular shape which points up at the top in the shape of a dome. The piece is mounted on a brick wall

(Above) This piece of ceramic art was created by student artist Delfina Bottesini, entitled 'Seed of Love, Flower of Courage, Fruit of Peace'.

The building will be open to the public on September 20 2008 during the Open House Weekend. Guided tours will start at 10 am, 11 am and 12pm. For further details, contact Margot Stone on 020 7613 8532.

For more information on the Open House weekend see the Open House London website.

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