The former Wickham’s department store on the Mile End Road in Whitechapel is one of London’s more notable architectural oddities. Its 1920s developers were unable to secure a crucial piece of the site – a three-storey house and shop occupied by a jeweller, Spiegelhalter’s – which consequently interrupts Wickham’s grand Beaux Arts facade. Ian Nairn described it as “the best visual joke in London – a perennial triumph for the little man, the blokes who won’t conform.”
The ‘Harrods of the East’ occupied the building until 1965, after which it was divided up between several different occupiers. After years of neglect it was returned to single ownership, and has now been comprehensively renovated by Buckley Gray Yeoman for client Schroders REIM – a scheme that preserves the quirky ‘missing tooth’.
Now known as ‘Dept W’, the restored building accommodates a workspace-led mix of uses over nearly 110,000 square feet. While original features including the stonework, hardwood flooring and domed glass ceilings have been restored, interiors have also been reconfigured to create 56,000 square feet of stripped-back Category A workspace across three upper floors, complete with new outdoor roof terraces and planting on each level. Piecing together a space which was previously separated by the Spiegelhalter facade, the third floor interiors have been remodelled and rationalised with glass infill, creating a continuous office floor.
A reception space, café, auditorium, meeting rooms, and gym sit on the ground floor and basement of the space. The Spiegelhalter’s facade became the focus of a local conservation campaign when plans to refurbish the building were announced in early 2015, and has been retained. It now forms the main entrance to Dept W, leading onto a courtyard where the shop once stood.
“We inherited a wonderfully rich, layered building”, says BGY associate director Amr Assaad. “We sought to embrace this history by unearthing and celebrating original features. New additions are proudly modern and breathe life into the space, beginning a new chapter for this iconic building.”