The Design District is a vibrant cluster of 16 new buildings for the creative industries at the heart of Greenwich Peninsula. It is designed as a “piece of city”, with a distinctive street grain, architecture, and urban character.
Location: Greenwich Peninsula, London, UK
Client: Knight Dragon
Consultants: Whitby Wood, Skelly & Couch, Artelia, Optimise
[ URBAN DESIGN / INFRASTRUCTURE / EDUCATION/ COMMERCE ]
[ 1602 ]
In 2015 we worked with London architects Allies and Morrisons on the planned redevelopment of the Greenwich Peninsula in London, home of the Dome, the temporary structure that was once the controversial centre-piece of London’s Millennium offer and now one of Europe’s largest and most successful entertainment venues.
The peninsula has historically been a home to industry and is laced with significant transport infrastructure. As a large cleared site surrounded by water, the Peninsula contains few of the usual contextual drivers for urban design
There is a predilection by many to assume that its a blank canvas and indeed the earlier Farrell’s plan took its ques and orientation from the temporary O2 dome.
However, strong relationships with the existing city do exist, and provide clear drivers for design.
Firstly is the way communities adjacent to the Thames have historically oriented streets perpendicular to the river edge, for permeability.
As the river curves, these perpendicular streets shift orientation, creating clusters of localised urban grain.
The large city-scale element of the river resolving itself in the small scale of a neighbourhood street is an important relationship taken up in the proposed masterplan.
THE URBAN STRATEGY
Composed as a fine-grained pedestrian quarter, the Design District both complements and contrasts with the 2015 Greenwich Peninsula Masterplan: small buildings amongst large; employment and education uses amongst residential; tight urban spaces amongst large boulevards; independent traders amongst large brands. In the wider context of many tall buildings on the Peninsula, the intimate scale of the Design District immediately announces it as a different kind of place. Pedestrianised, and comprised of a collection of three-five storey individual buildings, the Design District shares qualities with the scale and tight grain of pre-industrial inner-city neighbourhoods.
Despite it’s distinctive urban grain, the scheme meshes with the surrounding masterplan context. The alignment of Chandlers Avenue as it approaches Peninsula Square is one of the principal lines in the 2015 Greenwich Peninsula Masterplan. This alignment is echoed in the primary routes of the Design District, and related sub-geometries pervade the remaining District layout.
These geometries are also enlisted to disrupt otherwise straight axial routes through the District, breaking lines of sight, enhancing the immersive qualities of the Design District’s ‘interior’ courtyards. Entry points to these main routes are flared into open ‘mouths’, most notably to the Gateway Hub, drawing footfall from Peninsula Square to the District Square and thereafter Central Park.
As a plot layout, the scheme sets a strong, clear framework defining all the key spaces, edges, and movement routes. Sixteen free-standing buildings are composed around five courtyards. The buildings are clustered in four groups of four, each cluster enclosing a ‘Co-working Yard’ peculiar to its cluster, with a primary shared courtyard in the centre - the District Square. The District Square is given a more formal orthogonal geometry, establishing its authority.
In contrast the Co-working Yards are irregular and tighter, giving them an attractive informality and inviting interaction between buildings at ground level. All the courtyards are ‘hidden’, being only glimpsed from outside the District, inviting pedestrians to discover each in turn. All the courtyards are permeable and connect to each other, having routes in and out at every corner. The result provides a sense of spatial containment but not confinement, and all in within the realm of public space.
The proposal of setting a series of buildings and room-like spaces in a network of pedestrian-only lanes defines the urban approach. It avoids the familiar out-of-town solution of a small number of ‘big box’ buildings surrounded by circulation and parking. Unlike a shopping centre or business park, the Design District’s lanes and courtyards are pedestrian, external and shared. It does not have front doors which close, or a roof which contains.
The Design District is a place the public can flow through and interact with; a new urban fragment of the city of London. The height, scale and massing of the buildings of the Design District is small and human-scale in relation to the tall large-footprint masses of surrounding buildings in the 2015 Greenwich Peninsula masterplan. The height of all buildings in the Design District is below the maximum parameter height of 25.0m AOD.
In addition to its urban, landscape and place-making qualities, the Design District is also an ambitious architectural project in its own right: sixteen compelling buildings by eight leading architects. The District layout is carefully composed to play between two normally opposed conditions: space-making urbanism (shaped space, in the form of squares, streets, lanes), and individual sculptural buildings understood ‘in the round’. In the Design District, each building is separated from its neighbour - there are no party walls - but only just, creating narrow lanes to Coworking Yards behind.
Taken together the buildings successfully hold the massing frontage alignments so the sequence of courtyards and streets achieve their spatial forms. At the same time, the physical detachment of each building permits it its own distinct architectural language or ‘voice’ particular to that architect. The architect has completed and composed the building form and all external elevations as a coherent sculptural object. This sense of each building achieving a discrete identity is made more complex with each architect designing a pair of buildings. The pairs are deliberately not adjacent to each other, promoting ‘family’ relationships across the District.
The continuity yet diversification of the buildings is deliberate and strategic. Variation and individuation of building character is encouraged and supported, in a frame. The approach leverages the logic of the contemporary city: heterogeneity of feel, variety of offer, architectural pluralism, and yet cohesiveness in the whole.
The process of design and architectural evolution of the individual buildings followed a dual path. Architects balanced bursts of work in isolation with mutual comparison and response over successive iterations of their designs.
Situated at either end of the design district’s main square, A2 and B2 sit as a pair of nearly identical buildings containing a set of working spaces, retail and F&B across 4 floors. The north facing façade of each building is raked bringing north light into the interiors, whilst opening up the public spaces of the district to the sky. The sloped façade has glazed and coloured solid areas in a harlequin pattern, A2 in reddish pink and B2 in a pine green. The colour and pattern of the sloped façade is continued at ground floor in hard wearing granite. The other facades are wrapped in corrugated metal, reflecting daylight into the alleys and courtyards. A large diamond window in the end facade of A2 gives views on to the main square and a glimpse into the interiors of the workspaces, whilst a smaller opening in B2 orientates views across the park.
To each courtyard a four storey window cuts across core and office space alike, revealing the movement of people up the stairs.In each building the compact core containing the stair, lift, risers and WCs is pushed to the southern edge, allowing a large uninterrupted space for working along the north sloped facade. The main entrance to the work spaces on the upper floors is from the working yards, whilst shower and lockers located off the entrance hall at ground floor level serve those who travel by bike.