Blog: Building Project of the Year under 10m SECBE Awards 2020 finalist - Poplar Works

11 May 2020

sponsored by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield

Building Project of the Year under £10m SECBE Awards 2020 finalist - Poplar Works (submitted by calfordseaden)

Poplar Works - delivered by calfordseaden and their project partners - has seen the transformation of a disused site into a new home for East London’s fashion economy and a cornerstone of the resurgent creative and industrial identity of the area. This innovative fashion hub aims to regenerate its surroundings while paying homage to its rich history with fashion and the arts. 

The main objective of the scheme was to secure and create affordable and accessible workspaces that support inclusive sustainable growth and encourage a positive outlook for the fashion industry in the local area, returning an authentic, accessible and ambitious industry to its natural home. This collaborative community hub will set the foundations for the arrival of the London College of Fashion, which plans to relocate to the Olympic Village.

In order to achieve the set objectives with minimal social and environmental disruption, the scheme partially involved transforming existing redundant and derelict garages into creative workspaces. To achieve this, Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) were employed. This allowed for innovative design that considered the environmental impact. Their sustainable approach also extends to materials. The principle fabric materials were recycled in a joint initiative with the community recycling project group R-Urban, operated by Poplar Works architecture and art collective.

Having established a strong team mindset, the success of the project came from each individual member of the team working towards one collective goal. The project brief, principles and risks were shared and developed and everyone was aware of their responsibilities within the team.

Environmental impacts were considered across all stages of the development from methods of construction to materials. The specification of products was made in the spirit of reduced environmental impact, maximum community benefit, and optimum thermal and energy performance.

Key challenges

The primary challenge faced was the requirement to develop a concept design and effect efficient construction methodology on a variant site that constantly challenged risk management tools. The potential risks and challenges required a collaborative team in constant communication to ensure timescales and responsibilities were actioned. The design changes were constantly challenged to ensure complete compliance with the client and end-user requirements.

One area of the scheme comprised of derelict garages. The age of the pre-existing garages, along with their length of isolation and neglect, posed several challenges and potential risks. One of which was the discovery of garage slab level deviations across the site which had to be designed around. This created complications around the original design intent to retain the garage slabs and retaining walls to the rear.

A key challenge in more detail

The project involved the partial demolition of the existing garage structures, with the original structural walls and floors remaining intact as part of the new foundation. The new structure featured an engineered steel frame to position on top of the original concrete structures. The steelwork stub columns were based on original designs, and supports the floor and new Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) structure. Due to intensive structural inspections carried out during the initial design stage, it was assumed that post-demolition there would be nothing amiss. This led them to pre-order the CLT structure and steelworks ahead of the full demolition works in order to maintain critical construction milestones. Following the demolition and subsequent removal of the existing concrete roof slabs, it became clear that the rear garage and retaining concrete walls were not in keeping with the original design concept. The walls were not the assessed design thickness, but rather were excessive and positioned outside of the design tolerance parameters.

To overcome this, the design team undertook immediate option feasibilities on solutions to maintain use of the CLT structure. A design solution was developed whereby the line, level, verticality and loading requirements were re-surveyed and compared specifically to the critical vertical displacement between the building fixing positions. Furthermore, with lateral movement forces and through testing of key design iterations and modelling performed to ensure load transfer was effective, a suitable additional steelwork design was implemented to safely transfer load without compromise of the original CLT frame.


  • This scheme has resulted in the successful regeneration of a derelict site and has taken taking inspiration from the rich history of the area and its relationship with fashion and the arts to provide accessible and collaborative creative workspaces.
  • Poplar Works has set the foundations for the relocation of the London College of Fashion. This regeneration of the local area will continue to increase opportunities in jobs and training and will ensure that talent is nurtured in and attracted to East London.
  • The project has benefited from whole team engagement and collaboration in providing an innovative solution that managed risk, was delivered on time and within budget, and offered complete client and end-user satisfaction.

About the Building Project of the Year Award:

The SECBE Awards team look for outstanding local projects that: demonstrate great team working between the client and entire supply chain; were delivered before the programmed completion date, below the approved cost plan and to quality exceeding expectation whilst delivering the highest of health and safety standards; achieved the lowest environmental impacts; delivered outstanding customer satisfaction and may have also received praise from other stakeholders, and demonstrates the highest levels of the application of best practice, innovation and technical achievement to overcome the project’s challenges.

> Find out more about the other finalists here

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