Cordy House

Building On Cool

For a few years, Cordy House was a magnet for artists in East London thanks to its transformation by Garfield Hackett. Hackett looks back on its halcyon days.

Words william everett

If your Converse were treading the streets of Shoreditch in the mid to late Noughties, they may well have taken you to Cordy House, the kind of (sub)cultural hub that now makes seasoned hipsters go misty-eyed. The brains behind the operation was Garfield Hackett, 47, who transformed a lonely shell of a building on Curtain Road into an East London institution. Under Hackett’s stewardship, Cordy House hosted theatre groups Punchdrunk and YouMeBumBumTrain, graffiti legends Shepard Fairey and D*Face, and all manner of parties, art shows and photo shoots. All in all, edgier than an Escher.

“It all kicked off in 2005,” says Hackett. “Cordy House was then a dilapidated building owned by a property developer friend of mine. He asked me if I wanted to do something with it and I said ‘Why not?’ so he gave me the keys.

“We started off hosting little parties to fund the place. The first official thing we did was the Boy George Fashion Show. We painted a catwalk on the floor and Naomi Campbell was the first person photographed coming out of Cordy House.”

Hackett commissioned Shepard Fairey to paint the outside of the building – Fairey’s first street art in the UK – putting Cordy House firmly on the street movement map. Suddenly, every street artist was clamouring for space inside Cordy House. “We just gave them a wall and told them to paint!”

Cordy House also became a breeding ground for immersive theatre, with Punchdrunk performing its first shows here, and YouMeBumBumTrain making its magic in the basement.

“YouMeBumBumTrain are massive now,” says Hackett. “They use hundreds of performers at a time. One time the police came during a performance. I had to lock the basement and pretend no one was there, saying ‘sssh’ down the stairs because we didn’t have a licence.”

“YouMeBumBumTrain were proper feral artists. Once I couldn’t find a piece the artist Jimmy Crane had done for Cordy House, so I went downstairs and YMBBT had cut it up to make something. I said to them, ‘You lot have to get out now, sorry’. They said, ‘Before we go, let us take you on our train’, so I agreed and it was so good I let them stay – it just blew my head!”

In 2008, Hackett’s friend was forced to sell Cordy House. “I got a phone call from my friend and he goes, ‘Listen, you have to get out of the building by tomorrow’. I said, ‘I’m not leaving ‘til I meet the new owners’. I told them if they kicked us out, they would have to pay business rates, as well as security and insurance costs. If they let us stay in the building we’d take away those costs as an arts charity. They agreed, and we carried on.”

Cordy House continued to break moulds and ruffle feathers until the new owners finally won planning permission to develop the building in 2009. Determined to go out with a bang, Hackett threw the mother of all parties on the Cordy House roof. “Have you seen the Adidas advert where they’re all jumping on the roof? That was inspired by our party.” All in a day’s work at the Cordy House that was.


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