Farringdon and Smithfield

Friday 2 November 2012

The development of Farringdon and Smithfield is set to go ‘crazy’ once Crossrail makes it one of the most connected places in the capital in 2018. But it must take care to retain its richly historic character and sense of place.

Those were some of the key sentiments arising from a special NLA On Location conference held at Hogan Lovells’ offices on Holborn Viaduct yesterday.

Standing in commendably at short notice for Islington director of planning and development Karen Sullivan, the London borough’s Eshwyn Prabhu said that both Crossrail and Thameslink are set to make a big impact on the area, with a potential uplift of 25-40 per cent in rents. But a tight medieval street pattern around Farringdon Station will create challenges for development, as will sites in the viewing corridor of St Paul’s. Prabhu said that the area will attract many different businesses and professional disciplines, and that there is the potential for a ‘new cultural quarter, or West End’ given its connectedness. ‘I think it’s going to go crazy once Crossrail is up and running’, he said.

Alan Baxter of Alan Baxter & Associates traced the history of the area as being one outside the City walls where ‘all the dirty stuff’ went on, including the clay pits, burial grounds, and live meat market on the field where Smithfield Market currently is. Monasteries, slums, the railways and roads were also part of its history, along with Farringdon’s notoriety in more recent years as the gay club centre of Europe and major design community epitomised by the Clerkenwell festival. Farringdon wasn’t on anybody’s map of London in 1979 when Baxter first found his premises on Cowcross Street, but with its transport connections it will soon have 1/3 of the population of England within 45 minutes. But it is a ‘nowhere place, alas’ and bears the problems of an absence of strategic thinking. Farringdon Road is a ‘really terrible canyon’ but Smithfield Market has great potential for London that calls for thinking across boundaries.

The conference also heard from Jones Lang LaSalle director Charles Pinchbeck, who said the area is already experiencing a step change, with names such as Skype and Samsung joining a general London-wide boom in the TMT sector. He added that there had been 23 investment transactions in the area inside the last 24 months, and that it was ‘probably the most sought-after area in central London for the investor’.

John Robertson outlined his scheme for Farringdon West Over Station Development, a stepped-back replacement for the unloved Cardinal Tower – a ‘rent slab’ and ‘daylight buster’ designed by Richard Seifert. The new scheme opens up new local views of St Paul’s and promises to complement a new pedestrianised Cowcross Street. Another scheme, the Turnmill project by Piercy & Co for Derwent London, is another replacement building, this time for the former stables and night-club which stood on the corner site. Richard Baldwin, head of development at Derwent London said the new scheme promises more of a street presence, with retail and restaurants on the ground floor, and a design which reinterprets the warehouse aesthetic, using Kolumba Petersen bricks. ‘It will make for a distinctive building and welcome addition to the London skyline.’ Finally Gerald Kaye, director at Helical Bar, showed how the developer’s Barts Square scheme – up at planning committee next Tuesday (6 November) promises to work with the local grain, recognising and respecting the distinct characters of the site. The scheme is a proposed new urban quarter encompassing the redevelopment of a range of former hospital buildings on Little Britain and Bartholomew Close, designed by masterplanners Sheppard Robson and landscape architect Gross Max.

Discussion sessions grappled with issues ranging from conflicting wayfinding systems to the possibility of decking over the railway lines at Farringdon to the future of Smithfield Market – labelled an ‘anachronism’ in its current format by Kaye.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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