On the third and final day, the International Council convened with Van Alen programming partner New London Architecture for a workshop facilitated by Paul Finch of Architectural Record. Joined by a range of key London players from across the public, private, and design sectors, the Council drew upon the learnings and observations of the previous two days with the goal of deriving best practices to help inform the next generation of private development in London and beyond.
The Council members found much to praise, as well as room for considerable improvement. They presented their ideas to a panel of experts including Daniel Moylan, Urban Design London co-chairman, former deputy chairman of Transport for London, and former chairman of the LLDC; Peter Bishop, Professor of Urban Design at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture and local authority planning director for King’s Cross; and Alison Brooks, principal and creative director at Alison Brooks Architects, which designed a residential scheme at King’s Cross.
Carl Bäckstrand | Partner & Vice President, White Arkitekter (Co-Chair)
Niklas Carlen | Office Manager Stockholm, Wingardhs
Karen Frome | Founding Partner, Rise Projects
Alan Maskinz | Principal / Owner Olson Kundig Architects
Erika Escalante | Director of Interiors & Comms, Studio Saxe
Daniel Maldonado | Senior Vice President, Skanska (Board Member)
Lara Kinneir | Director, New London Architecture
Tim Rettler | Principal Project Manager Regeneration, Greater London Authority
Team One’s central critique was the fact that both projects lacked connection with the surrounding neighborhoods, emphasized by physical boundaries: At King’s Cross, a large building separates the development from the existing neighborhood, while on the Olympic Park, a canal divides the park from Hackney Wick and Fish Island to the east. Citing the role of community boards in the US, they suggested it might be the role of government to ensure boundaries were more flexible and designs more inclusive.
They also noted a generic quality to the development, part of a global trend of place without placement. To encourage developers to opt for more than a standard design, they suggested the industry needed to quantify design value.
The group also felt that the impacts of climate change were not sufficiently addressed at either site.
The group came up with 10 considerations to inform future development:
- The human scale: What building heights are people comfortable walking through?
- Signage: Provide information about where you are and where you’re going
- Location: Where is the nearest grocery store?
- Interdisciplinary approach
- Early community involvement: Consult people who have already done work in the area, such as anthropologists
- Design value and design leadership
- Material selection based on circular economy
- Location specific design: Use materials appropriate for the area and the climate
- Co-living/co-working/co-playing: How is that mixed into the development?
- Ecosystem service
In response, Peter Bishop noted that he did not recognize the group’s view of King’s Cross. The site had difficult physical barriers, such as high-speed rail and many tunnels, which were insurmountable. From the outset, he said, the government’s aim was to produce a scheme that addressed the social disadvantage of the surrounding area and was inclusive in its approach. The location of amenities, such as the school and swimming pool, was vital to attracting people into the development.
The plan was based on a traditional London typology that dated back to the Great Estates and, apart from two housing blocks, no building exceeded 12 stories. Allies and Morrison’s flexible master plan allowed individual buildings to be replaced over time.
Bishop said King’s Cross tried to balance the need for a private developer to make a return on investment by embedding strong social benefits in the development.
Alison Brooks highlighted the fact that many developments lacked the nuances of good places because developers did not want the complexity of building and managing schools or swimming pools, but that King’s Cross had managed to achieve this.
Daniel Moylan posed a series of questions for architects. Any large-scale industrial site would have barriers, so what’s the solution? Drawn up more than 10 years ago, the King’s Cross and Olympic Park master plans don’t take account of climate change —are master planning and the planning system too inflexible to respond to today’s issues? The challenge for architects, he said, was to refresh the master plan and planning permission.
Nick Taylor | Director, Squint/Opera
Katrin Binder | Project Manager, Henning Larsen
Jonas Edblad | Office Manager Göteborg, Wingardhs
Monica von Schmalensee | CEO, White Arkitekter (Co-Chair)
Denzil Gallagher | Partner, BuroHappold Engineering
Nat Oppenheimer | Senior Principal, Silman
Susanna Sirefman | Founder and President, Dovetail Design Strategists
Carla Swickerath | Partner, Studio Libeskind
Jonathan Leah | Principal and Sector Leader for Education in Europe, Woods Bagot
Sowmya Parthasarathy | Urban Design Leader, Integrated City Planning, Arup
Team Two analyzed the two projects against five dominant themes.
1. Center vs. edges
The group found that some edges of King’s Cross and the Olympic Park were potentially hostile because the developments had not considered the link between the old and the new and the heart had been developed at the expense of the perimeters. At King’s Cross, in particular, all signage pointed inwards, directing people away from the older neighborhoods and their amenities.
The group recommended focusing harder on the perimeter and respecting the larger community. Planning regulation may be needed to encourage this.
2. Mix it up
King’s Cross was successful in mixing the old and the new, but the group found a lack of demographic diversity at the Olympic Park. They recommended flexibility in the master plan to allow a rich programmatic mix and for developers and architects to consider how to encourage a greater social mix and a better live/work mix.
3. Nature vs. nurture
In the Olympic Park, in particular, there were areas that felt bereft of energy while others were over energetic. This could be mitigated through a better balance of the planned and the unplanned, encouraging people into the park rather than presenting a perfectly programmed space.
The group recommended flexible planning and collaboration throughout the life of the development rather than just at the beginning. This could take the form of community governance, which would provide a richer and more collaborative approach.
4. Macro vs. micro
The group recognized the importance of architects and developers looking beyond the red line to how the site linked with the surrounding area. While there are limits to what individual architects can do outside the red line, the industry as a whole can exert influence on governments to ensure better connections between neighborhoods.
To avoid large developments being sterile, a rich mix of partnerships is required, not just in the project team but with communities.
5. Human and planetary health
Architects and developers must think about working differently to ensure human and planetary health. Sustainability is now a given but it needed to be addressed at the start of a project and the UN Sustainable Development Goals could be used as the framework.
In response, Alison Brooks said the divide between living and working was out of date. Even housing as housing was obsolete, as every home was a potential business as more people worked from home or created start-ups in their living rooms. Foyers could become co-working and meeting spaces, with the added benefit of introducing activity and diversity to the streetscape. The property industry did not recognize the trend, however, because it created complexity.
Daniel Moylan said it was not planning, but a building’s adaptability that enabled mixed use. He questioned whether some large sites with their single-use big blocks had the flexibility to be adapted.
Peter Bishop advocated that it was planning’s role to engage developers and architects in a contextual debate. Planning needed to think propositionally and force a debate so developers thought more about the context and not just the red line.
Gabriela Frank | Director of Business Development and Marketing, Olson Kundig Architects
Jan Bunge | Managing Director, Squint Opera
Daniel Elsea | Director and Head of Communications, Allies and Morrison (Co-Chair)
Mark Johnson | President, Civitas (Board Member and Climate Council Co-Chair)
Paul Karakusevic | Partner, Karakusevic Carson Architects
Gerard Maccreanor | Founding Director, Maccreanor Lavington Architects
Manisha Patel | Senior Partner, PRP
Dr. Bridget Snaith | Senior Lecturer landscape architecture, University of East London
Tomas Stokke | Director, Haptic Architects
Team Three’s first focus was on finance. Long-term ownership achieves long-term benefit and in the case of King’s Cross, the private investment with its patient money and patient intention has produced a high level of benefit.
In contrast, the public investment in the Olympic Park was hot money as it had to be spent in a short period of time to deliver the Games venues and the LLDC was now having to ‘backfill’ to create a long-term benefit.
The two sites were typical of brownfield industrial areas: interstitial spaces that were voids in a city, but also highly connected because of their industrial past. The Olympic Park was regionally connected but locally disconnected. The group identified the River Lea—the reason the Olympic Park was originally developed as an industrial zone—as the means to restoring connectivity.
The short time scale to deliver the Olympics and the development meant the park lacked the fine grain of an evolving city, but the gap between the east and the west was starting to ease and the East Bank culture and education sector would bring further change.
King’s Cross was smaller parcels of land in a void and active part of London with a rich industrial heritage. It was, the group found, simply good real estate. This project involved stitching pieces together rather than building big infrastructure and the creation of a strong public realm made it resilient and adaptable.
In terms of inclusivity, health, well-being, and affordability, neither project was perfect. The Olympic Park and some surrounding areas were socially inclusive with good public amenities. South Park catered for multi-generations, while the housing in Chobham Manor and Sugarhouse Island was targeting the middle class. In the west, however, the group felt Hackney Wick was disconnected from the park and the fine grain of Fish Island had been missed as it was trying to be brought into the Olympic Park.
In contrast, King’s Cross had a rich character with exemplary public spaces and an interesting mix of uses. They noted that it would be hard to think of another urban development where the Aga Khan and Google were neighbors.
Critical to both projects was that they were places made for Londoners and they seemed to support Londoners. This contrasted with New York’s High Line and Hudson Yards, which were built for visitors.
Daniel Moylan said the housing development appealing to the middle class was a deliberate decision by the then-mayor of Newham. Most of the park lies in the Borough of Newham, dominated by social housing, so the mayor wanted to attract middle class people to the area.
In terms of finance, Peter Bishop highlighted the difference between the private scheme of King’s Cross, which held its nerve, and the public sector Olympic Park, which bottled it. King’s Cross was a quasi-public/private client that engaged a developer as a partner while the public sector mediated and represented the public good. In contrast, at the Olympic Park, the public sector drew up a master plan without having its finger on the pulse of the market.
Alfredo Caraballo | Partner, Allies and Morrison (Co-Chair)
Kevin Kudo-King | Principal / Owner, Olson Kundig Architects
Benjamin Garcia Saxe | Executive Director, Studio Saxe
Jared Della Vale | CEO & Founder, Alloy Development
Madeleine Kessler | Associate Architect, Haptic Architects
Craig Miller | Partner, Heatherwick
Alen Penn | Professor in Architectural and Urban Computing, Dean of Faculty, The Bartlett
Team Four considered governance, time, value, and people.
In terms of governance, the private sector, public sector and community needed to work together to create the sense of place. The problem with public sector decisions was time, as they could be casualties of the five-year political cycle; whereas the private sector’s long-term vision for King’s Cross was part of the project’s success.
Like Team One, Team Four identified the need to measure value beyond purely the financial.
One of those intangibles was people and diversity. As it was hard to put a value number on diversity, the group felt there might be a role for regulation and planning to achieve a greater mix in communities. Historically, London was most successful where it had mixed communities; developments aimed at particular groups or financially attractive markets were creating challenges for the future.
Daniel Moylan believed both projects were backed by positive investors. At the Olympic Park, Here East was on a 99-year lease and the investment arm of Qatar’s ruling family now owned East Village, the former athletes’ village. Likewise, King’s Cross had very patient capital behind it.
Overall, while Council members had some reservations about the two projects, they recognized that both King’s Cross and the Olympic Park were still relative newborns and that, as with London’s centuries-old Great Estates, time would add maturity, layers and granularity.