The Twentieth Century Society

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Buildings at risk

The Jagonari Centre, Whitechapel

Status: Local listing application pending (2024)

The Jagonari Centre, Whitechapel – Matrix (1985-87)

Image: Pam Isherwood

The Jagonari Centre, Whitechapel – Matrix (1985-87)

Risk: Further alteration and loss of features

The idea for a Bengali women’s resource centre in London’s East End first emerged in 1982 and following funding support from the GLC (Greater London Council), an empty plot of land on Whitechapel High Street was developed into the Jagonari Centre – meaning ‘women awake’ in Bengali. It was designed by Matrix, an all-female collective of architects with a non-hierarchical co-operative structure, who worked solely on state funded social building projects in London between 1981 and 1994.

Prejudice faced by the Asian community in the East End of London was a big issue at the time, and the women involved in the Jagonari reported that nearly all of them had been subject to letterbox fires and abuse in the street. In the design brief they required safety, security, childcare provision, and ‘sensitivity to women’s cultural and religious needs while breaking some myths about Muslim women in particular’.
A highly participatory design process included activities like a ‘brick picnic’, where material choices and textures were discussed, and ultimately led to the incorporation of strong South Asian influences like the decorative ‘jali’ grilles over all the windows, a separate entrance for women, ground level sinks for cooking on the floor, and a squat style toilet to compliment the fully accessible WCs on each level.

Due to financial challenges the Jagonari Centre closed in 2015. The premises was subsequently taken over by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets for use as an alcohol recovery centre and is currently being operated by private providers of childcare. At some point in 2016 the main doorway was re-profiled leading to the loss of the mosaic entrance by artist Meena Thakar. While the building itself is not thought to be under immediate threat, the unique design features and characteristics that distinguished the Jagonari are vulnerable to further alteration and loss under new occupancy. An unsuccessful attempt was made to list the building in 2018, while Matrix and their legacy were the subject of a dedicated ‘Reimagining Spaces’ exhibition at The Barbican Centre in 2021.

How to help: Request the Jagonari Centre (183–185 Whitechapel Road) be added to the Tower Hamlets local list by writing to

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