The competition winning North Harrow Community Centre gained planning consent in late 2010 and will be on site early 2013. The scheme provides learning, recreation, sports and meditation space for young people, adults and the elderly. The client group are East African Asians of the Shia faith who migrated to the UK in the 1970’s. The architects' aspiration, shared jointly with the client, was to develop a ‘cultural embassy’ providing learning and community space accessible to all Harrow residents regardless of faith.
The two-storey building accommodates a library, creative hub, prayer and exhibition space, kindergarten and conference facilities with a deep basement incorporating a sports hall. The site is complicated by a culverted river which restricts development and separates the building in two parts. The scheme gently mediates the culvert and neighbouring properties to create an ‘open courtyard’ at Station Road and a ‘contemplation garden’ along its back edge.
Key to the success of the scheme is how groups of different ethnicity, ages and backgrounds come together and how architecture and its ‘envelope’ might act as an urban canvas for cross cultural encounters. The filigree and ornamentation on the building’s façade related in part to Olbrich’s Secession Building is thus a narrative for the ‘cultural embassy’ which depicts through geometric patterns the migration of the client group from Iran to India, East Africa and finally to England.
Patterns from Isfahan, the Delhi Red Fort, the Maasai Mara as well as William Morris are interwoven into the building fabric and make reference to the Arts and Crafts vernacular of suburban Harrow also known as Metroland.