Your Home Made Perfect architect Julian McIntosh on bringing a derelict Bow church back to life

BBC Two’s Your Home Made Perfect architect Julian McIntosh tells us how he was inspired to make Holy Trinity Bow Church perfect, too.

Nestled in the grounds of the former Holy Trinity Bow Church in Mile End you’ll find an unassuming grey pebble-dashed container, which from the outside, could likely be mistaken as a groundskeeper’s cabin or storage room. 

But open the door, and you’ll find a sleek office encased in light wood chipboard, and decorated with sleek, minimalist furniture. On the walls are sparse shelves holding models of futuristic buildings and portfolios of clean, linework designs. 

This is the office of local resident and architect Julian McIntosh, who you may recognise from BBC2’s Your Home Made Perfect, in which he is pitted against another architect to win a project to transform a problematic pad into a heavenly home. 

On the show, virtual reality is used to bring McIntosh’s design to life for the excited homeowners to explore the architect’s vision for their home, which is then brought to life by builders and decorators. 

One of his favourite moments came after showing his plan to redesign a couple’s South London home; ‘they put on the goggles and they just loved it.’

After toiling over the design for homeowners Shelly and Steven, who, like McIntosh, have family in Barbados, he joked ‘I’ve worked really hard on this design. It’s been stressful. Let’s go to Barbados!’ to which the homeowner replied ‘Barbados!? I want to move into this house right now!’

What drew McIntosh to the show  – which may or may not have been confirmed for a fourth season (our lips are sealed) – is its ethos that good architecture is for everyone. It is not something just for the rich and well-off, but that can benefit anyone, no matter the size of their home or budget. 

Despite having spent time designing skyscrapers in Shanghai and a futuristic football training ground in Senegal, the architecture of Bow continues to inspire McIntosh. The Garden Bridge – though McIntosh calls it the ‘Yellow Bridge’ due to its banana coloured underside – is one of his favourite pieces of architecture.

‘It’s a fun reminder that you’re close to home, if you’re ever coming back on the 25 bus after a couple of drinks, it reminds you where you are. It’s a fun piece of architecture.’ 

McIntosh has lived in Bow for seven years, deciding on London as the place to call home having grown up in the village of Wellingborough, Northamptonshire and studying architecture in Huddersfield. He enjoys the variety of the area, with Victoria Park in walking distance, Stratford close by with its bars and restaurants, and ‘a bit of everything’ on offer. 

‘It’s a fun area with lots to get stuck in to, like a big derelict Church.’

Soon after moving to the area, McIntosh came across the run down and disused Holy Trinity Bow Church, located near Tredegar Square. First stepping foot into the building, McIntosh knew that this was a special place.’

‘It was almost like being in some kind of fantasy film, like Lord of the Rings, or something of that magnitude. It’s a breathtaking space, even in its silence and its closed state, it had quite a character to it. You don’t see that every day.’

Built around 1830, this grand, cavernous space is held up by enormous pillars that rise to the concave ceiling. The ceiling on the left side still depicts colourful crests, likely of wealthy or prominent families, and the walls host plaques dedicated to the deceased. Echos bounce around the vaulted space, which has a feel of faded yet ever-present glory. There’s even a crypt under the floor, though McIntosh confirms there are no bodies down there. 

McIntosh is the visionary behind the plan to renovate the Holy Trinity Bow Church into its new life as The HAC, a heritage and arts centre that will provide a space to celebrate local architecture and art and allow people to appreciate the glorious church itself.

For the last few years he has been busy working on grant applications to fund the restoration of the space and build  a team of volunteers to breathe life into it. 

Since 2019, the HAC has hosted a range of enthralling events. Indie pop singer-songwriter Tom Grennan made the acoustics in a performance in 2020, and internationally-renowned artist  Mala Siamptani reconstituted the church’s decayed building rubble to create an exhibition of beautiful test samples.

A member of the church himself, McIntosh has emphasised preserving and uncovering the history of the church. He also has ambitions for the space to serve the surrounding community, though its role as a Church will always have some presence. 

But this is a staggered renovation with much work still to be done, requiring significant funding or investment. There’s still a long way to go, but McIntosh and his team have some exciting plans up their sleeves. 

From the mysterious boxes of confetti in the storeroom to the strangely empty picture frames on display, we can’t wait to see where our local resident and TV architect takes the HAC next. 

If you liked this, read our interview with playwright Simon Stephens.

 


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