Wac Arts is a creative community hub aiming to unleash the potential of young people through the arts activities including dance, music and theatre. It shares its premises, the grade II listed Old Hampstead Town Hall in Belsize Park, north London, with partners who include the University of the Third Age, Akademi, South Asian Dance and the London Gay Men’s Chorus.

The Old Town Hall was built in 1878 on a corner plot on Haverstock Hill, and was hailed as ‘handsome and solid’ (though later, Pevsner called it ‘crushingly mean’: clearly its Italianate baroque qualities did not find favour with that arch-modernist). Whatever, it has an imposing, institutional feel to it at odds with Wac Arts aspiration to be open and welcoming to its community. Their IOWA masterplan (Inside Out Wac Arts) aims to open up the Old Town Hall to provide better access, more visibility and a wider public welcome. They appointed Ash Sakula for its first phase.

Wac Arts had envisaged a new café as a modern extension to the existing building. We proposed accommodating the café within the existing building, and allowing its activity to tumble out into the public realm with a large new café terrace on the front and side of the building. This, combined with more generous public areas inside the building, and a new front-staged performance and events space, will draw new audiences in and help create a busy, active ambience throughout the day and into the evening.

The new arrangement links the public areas of the building including the café and reception area with the so-called Imperial Stair, a Victorian baroque set piece rising the full height of the building.

A view of the new café and reception desk, looking towards the existing entrance on the front of the building, and the new entrance, left, opening onto the café terrace.

The café terrace replaces a service and parking yard which has been relocated at the rear. Cycle parking is front-staged, and step free access is provided for all users by means of a platform lift from the south, with level access to the north side pavement.

The front elevation of the building is unchanged apart from the new terrace and landscaping around the front and side.

A plan of the main level of the Old Town Hall shows the new entrance arrangements and café terrace outside. Inside the café and reception area link through to the Imperial Stair. The former Council Chamber, with the addition of a sprung floor, becomes a multi-purpose performance, rehearsal and events space.

The three large ground floor windows to the left become entrance doors linking the café with its terrace.

Ash Sakula drawings photos
Ash Sakula drawings photos
Ash Sakula drawings photos
Ash Sakula drawings photos

Hampstead Old Town Hall, 1926

Read more about the thinking behind this project:

Diagrams showing the constituents parts of the Old town Hall buildings, and a summary of external proposals.

Hampstead Old Town Hall in 1950, after a bomb clipped its campanile - it was rebuilt in 1999.

The Old Town Hall seen from Belsize Avenue

Hampstead Old Town Hall, on the corner of Haverstock Hill and Belsize Avenue.

1878 perspective and plans of the proposed Vestry Hall by its architects, H E Kendall and Frederick Mew.

Client: Wac Arts

Collaborators: P3r, Civic Engineers, Jane Toplis, Martin O'Rourke, Cragg

Planning submission: August 2019