East Village 2 – designing a legacy for London

Friday 13 April 2012

‘The biggest challenge is getting this place to work’.

So said ODA property director Ralph Luck at the second NLA breakfast seminar in a special series about the East Village project. ‘Forget all our professional disciplines and backgrounds, normally you can get regeneration and places to work’, he said, ‘the problem is it all happens too slowly’. Most big projects in London tend to develop out only 250-300 homes per year, ‘starving’ the market and meaning that businesses struggle to start up, and placemaking is thus stifled. ‘Here we have got the exact opposite challenge. We’ve got an awful lot of apartments to get occupied and the longer it takes to occupy them, the longer it takes to make a place. We’ve got a big challenge that no-one’s faced before’.

The ODA’s biggest fear was that Westfield would not build its shopping centre or that they would not finish it in time, principally because 60% of the access to the Olympic site is through the centre, but also because of its importance in legacy mode. Luck said that the East Village architects, chosen as a mix of well known and younger firms, had delivered, and a selection of them were on hand at the NLA to talk through their designs.  

Deborah Saunt, Director at DSDHA, said that her practice had been invited to work on the project following a phone call from Ricky Burdett, and had gone on to ‘seek innovation at every opportunity’. The ODA were ‘amazing backers’, said Saunt, especially since DSDHA had never before designed any housing before in London. The practice’s resultant triangular-in-plan, ‘cliff-face’ design, with ‘purposeful cragginess’ was inspired by nature and the site’s relationship with the Lea Valley. Associate Director at Eric Parry Architects Tim Lynch, designer of the N10 site south of the Chobham Academy, said his practice’s scheme had been ‘gifted’ with a chamfered site. It responded with a scheme which drew on its earlier design for Pembroke College and the balconies at the Barbican and which had a ‘haircut, not just a flattop’ at its peak. The balconies feature a series of colourful artworks of vitreous enamel fired on the Isle of Wight, with more open, transparent balconies on the courtyard side.

C. F. Møller Architects Project Leader Rolf Nielsen said his firm’s scheme for plot N13, like the others, had been under ‘incredible time pressures. Located at the top of the park, in zone 4, the solely residential scheme of 185 consists of four brick and glass reinforced concrete blocks is arranged in a horseshoe shape around a courtyard but not enclosing it.

Philip Turner, Associate Director and Project Architect at Allford Hall Monaghan Morris said AHMM had been appointed to look at the masterplan in comparison to other cities including Barcelona, and had worked with Fletcher Priest on issues like block sizes and streets up to a point where a ‘chassis’ was evolving, and after which Patel Taylor developed design codes. But AHMM also designed the Chobham Academy scheme, faced with, unusually, a completely blank canvas. The green-coloured, all-through school of 1850 pupils was ‘a small building which has to talk a big game in the context of these big housing blocks’, said Turner. A circular form had been chosen as a ‘distinct alternative to the housing blocks’ at the end of a very strong axis, responding to Leyton as well as the park in a ‘unifying architectural treatment which has no back’.

And finally, Associate at Penoyre & Prasad Mark Rowe said his practice was appointed just 27 months before its medical centre was actually completed. ‘This was about finding architectural clarity, at speed, out of a lot of competing demands’, he said. Again, because the project was for a relatively small building, Rowe said it needed to ‘punch above its weight’, finding its expression in the sculptural roofline, and ‘capturing the idea of movement’ within its solid form. It also resulted in a flexible building with a playful use of gold, silver, and bronze within the façade, a reference to an event nearby of some local, national and global significance… 

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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