Waffly good

Restored waffle slabs take centre stage at TateHindle's ingenious office refurbishment

Restored ceiling waffle slabs are the signature design feature in a stunningly reimagined 1980s office. By Will Mann

For its clever £5.6m refurbishment of 45 Folgate Street in Spitalfields, London, architect TateHindle has retained many original features of what was a tired 1980s office, most strikingly the exposed concrete waffle slabs of the ceiling. These combine with the bare columns of the structural frame to create a stripped-down, “industrial aesthetic”, as project architect Tony Lee puts it.

The five-storey building sits on a cobbled street of mostly Victorian facades. The design retains the brick facing of the front elevation, with new window bays on ground and first floors, plus a modernised entrance, allowing more light into the interior. The core has been reconstructed, with one of two staircases removed, the fifth-floor roof space remodelled, and a stepped extension added to the rear. The lettable space has been increased by over 25% to 1,925m2.

Previously, the waffle slabs were concealed by suspended ceilings, and the square coffers, each 850mm across and 275mm deep, were in surprisingly good condition. “Half a dozen per floor had holes around 100mm in diameter drilled through for services, and roughly one in 20 had yellow paint sprayed on,” says Lee. “To fill the holes, we created a special mould and poured in the concrete from above. We tested half a dozen samples in advance to achieve the right match.” The yellow paint was blasted off but otherwise the slabs were just brushed clean, and small imperfections were left to give a natural effect.

The grid pattern of the waffle slabs is accentuated by strips of LED lighting, suspended from the ceiling, except in the reception where it is attached to the soffit. “The LED lights give a stronger output, which meant we could space them further apart,” explains Lee. “By suspending them, we could also create an uplight on the ceiling, brightening the appearance of the waffles.”

The high-level services are concentrated around the edges of each ceiling to expose as much of the soffit as possible. Removing the suspended ceilings gained an extra 375mm of space, to give a total floor-to-ceiling height of 2.85m.

Various concrete features have been added to complement the structural elements, including sinks in the bathrooms and, in the reception, the desktop, a cantilevered bench and a polished concrete floor.

“To avoid inconsistency in the floor’s appearance, we used metal trims over the joints, 1,500mm apart, which also reinforces the modular effect of the waffles above,” explains Sarah Brown, project director at TateHindle. “Simplicity is the theme of all the finishes. So we have used black metalwork, white porcelain, stainless steel and timber, which complement the concrete.”

As the nearby White Collar Factory by AHMM attests, industrial chic is a very popular aesthetic among the district’s hi-tech start-ups, which are the development’s target tenants. 45 Folgate Street shows that older buildings can do it just as well as new ones.


Architect TateHindle
Structural engineer Sinclair Johnston
Main contractor Corley + Woolley