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Future Cities Forum Report Part 3 - Joined up housing, culture and visitor destinations

Above: panorama looking down the Thames to the London Eye and Waterloo, with the Palace of Westminster on left, St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, Evelina London, and Lambeth Palace on right

Future Cities Forum's part 3 of our Lambeth Palace Library discussion, gave a focus to the building of sustainable creative clusters, entertainment venues and visitor destinations in London. Those contributing to part three included Southwark Council, Yoo Capital Management, Grimshaw, LDA Design and the Battersea Power Station Development Company.

Questions were asked around how to build creative clusters in London without falling prey to gentrification, how to involve the community in new projects so that they can benefit from jobs and training, how transport hubs and stations can act as catalysts for the growth of creative SME's and lastly how to attract overseas talent to settle in the Capital with a wealth of high-quality cultural entertainment venues and visitor destinations.

Southwark Council's Head of Regeneration South, Neil Kirby, talked about the importance of balancing investment with serving the needs of the community, when planning joined-up housing, jobs and creative clusters:

'It is a hard balance attracting investment but making sure the community benefits. Southwark Council is the largest local authority in the country and we are building a third of council homes in the country but we still need more housing here. It is about quality otherwise it doesn't get through planning permission. We do want the growth of creative clusters and want to make it happen but we want integration in the neighbourhood.

'Often educational establishments can't get in. One project that has been successful is the music school in Peckham - the Mountview Academy. We have offered jobs and apprenticeships through it and therefore made sure that those using it are integrated into the neighbourhood. It is a building that is publicly open alongside students using it and people go there at the weekend. It is a way of encouraging people into the industry. Gentrification is always a concern like in Notting Hill but building creative clusters is also about place-making.

'It is important to encourage struggling artists to stay and we provide subsidised spaces for them. Ten per cent are let below market value with parking places. We want those who have been to art school to stay and we do want to ensure that those artists we help are really local so it benefits the community. The issue we have is money and so we are reliant on developers coming in. Libraries are important politically and the one in Canada Water is a huge resource and we provide lots of activities to get people to come in and experience how the building functions.'

Above: Mountview Academy of Drama in Peckham (designed by Turner Works and photographed by Tim Crocker)

How can smaller streets in districts around London retain current creative enterprises while becoming more successful? Grimshaw's Georgia Collard-Watson spoke about the campaign to preserve and encourage creativity in local streets around Waterloo Station as part of a new station masterplan that the firm is working on:

'It is a joint plan with Lambeth and it is important to extend those benefits of transportation reach out into the communities. Our initial research shows a significant area of change with lots of voices and multiple ambitions from stakeholders. We want to understand what makes Waterloo unique. There are world-class institutions but also creativity in streets such as The Cut. How to bring all that together is the question, at a time when cultural industries in Lambeth are showing stagnation, so how can we support SME's for example and keep them locally in the area.

'We need to look at what spaces are available and how the transport infrastructure lends itself to the creative nature of working, how can we build that into the future of Waterloo, along with the digital and life sciences industries. We need to support the area to the south of the station, down from the hospital buildings to Lambeth North and the communities east of the station. In improving that connectivity in the station, we can bring that reach down south. We are trying to understand the phasing of how clusters come forward and support them as they emerge. We want to work to animate the areas of lower and upper Marsh more.'

Above: Main entrance to Waterloo Station, London, in May 2023 - set to benefit from a renewed masterplan by Grimshaw

Allowing for the Capital's creativity to emerge fully post pandemic has been a focus for Lloyd Lee, Managing Partner of Yoo Capital Management, who is redeveloping the great exhibition spaces of Olympia. London needs to work on expanding its night time economy, but often residents are fearful of noise levels and the extra traffic that might entail. Lloyd said:

'We are struggling with 19th century fabric but nevertheless you can actually play at 120 decibels and it is actually silent outside. Of course, no one wants construction with crane lights on all night, which is fine, off it comes. But at the same time, residents are excited about this new facility and what it will offer them in terms of lifestyle. If you live in London you love the urban jumble of everything, it is what makes London so great.

'In developing Olympia, you have to ask that question, what is your USP? What is it about Olympia that makes it special? I think there is an obligation to polish those historical stories and we have to earn that, not just allow it to be thrown out during demolition. The exhibition halls are Olympia's DNA. When London as a city was not the most populous in earlier times, what came out of it? The answer is remarkable innovation and production. London is now a world capital so it allows us to be a showcase at Olympia. That dynamism can be expanded out of the halls into areas of arts and retail, music and entertainment.'

Above: CGI view at dusk of re-modelling and expansion of Olympia London by Yoo Capital (SPPARC and Heatherwick Studio)

Lloyd was asked why he did not develop some science innovation workplace in with the arts at Olympia?

He commented:

'There is a level of engagement that is tougher in the science and hospital sector, so that's why we didn't involve the life sciences here. Nobody wants an ambulance roaring through an entertainment space. But what we can attempt is vertical integration, so we are building a creative arts school. On the one hand we have famous acts performing, but on the other it is about encouraging talent in the community.

'Our development in Shepherds Bush close to Imperial and White City has been the place for science innovation. What we can contribute to that science is just 15 minutes away. In our development we have some market stalls that have been trading since 1906 and some very new. There is a story line there and we need to work thematically creating a new home for the market traders. In theory you can do anything you want in development terms but if it is all mixed up people just don't understand.'

Image: Planting and designed outside space around Kova Patisserie at Battersea Power Station's Circus Road West, courtesy of LDA Design for BPSDC.

One important theme in the discussion about creating sustainable destinations is the connectivity, making it easy for visitors to access them. LDA Design's Head of London Studio, Ben Walker, who has been part of the design team creating a new district and destination at Battersea Power Station, commented on the importance of connectivity and arrival:

'How do you physically get people there? When I started on the project at Battersea it was tricky with one bus route and the rickety Queenstown Road train station. Now there is the Thames Clipper jetty (second only to Greenwich for popularity), the new tube station and line and the stations of 'Boris' or Santander bikes . However, one of the vital things is to create different scales of entry. You don't want one to be dominant. The site had been closed for decades with no public connection. The Grosvenor Arch towards Battersea Park had to be tight and pedestrianised with room for buggies. Prospect Way needed a 2-pronged approach with a service road entrance but also another option for 'swell spaces' allowing time to dwell - planning for the moment when people can meet at an arranged space, arriving by train, taxi or bike, and where you are not lost is very important. This is the 'Waterloo clock' moment and pedestrian movements must be comfortable.

'It is important to create through the design, the space where people can take in the view. When you arrive from Prospect Way and the tube there is your Instagram shot of the south east chimney - and everybody's happy. Other routes allow you only a glimpse at first so as you progress towards the building so there is an element of intrigue built in.

Ben spoke about the importance of incorporating nature into the design of the Battersea project:

'We were very keen that biophilia - the connection with nature including the sound of water - was an integral part of the design process from the beginning and there has to be ample opportunity to get as close as possible to the river. We elevated people above the balustrade so even a small child could see the river. The design could not be a basic wall. Design of river edge was very important so a generous perching rail was created.

'The park space at Battersea Power Station has to do many jobs - event space, lawn, sun-bathing. On planting, I challenged the team to take a picture each month during the year as nature and horticulture are ever-changing. We had big concerns with wind moving around, and then we have salty water at certain times. We need drought tolerant plants. Because it was designated as a new town centre our real challenge was making sure people felt welcome and had time to sit back. If you can allow those things to happen naturally it can be successful - having a place to sit is very important.'

CGI of retail offer at Battersea Power Station, courtesy of Cushman and Wakefield.

Designing the right kind of retail into cultural destinations has been testing since before the pandemic, so how difficult is it to know whether as a developer you are getting it right? Could the developers of Battersea Power Station find a unique offering and would because of the area and design of the flats, just be populated by the very rich?

Battersea Power Station Development Company's Head of Planning and Public Affairs, Gordon Adams, said:

'Working out our USP is very important for a 42-acre 'fortress site'. We knew we were not going to compete with the City or indeed with Olympia, so we went for tech. In 2016, so did Apple - as did other companies - signing up to take half a million square feet of office space. There has been a growing ecosystem there of tech companies. Is it just for the rich? We are 50/50 residential and commercial, with no gate to the development and 18 acres of open space, which the public has access to.

'On the question of retail, you cannot look at the development and take the historic element of the building out of it. We weren't looking for a generic box and we have a beautiful building with a beautiful interior. The intention is to get people to go and spend time there even if they don't buy anything. There is a mix of leisure uses there as well. Retail began to be hammered from 2019, even before the pandemic and my leasing team has done a fantastic job in creating what is a new town centre over night. They had to adapt to what was happening in retail and now there is 85% occupation. There are high-end shops but we are mixing it up with independents.

Gordon was asked whether the connectivity worked with long busy roads to navigate to get there? He answered:

'There are busy roads but also a tube station which has been privately funded and that connectivity is key, but I think it is also the culture and heritage that will draw people to the development. When I listened to Giles Mandelbrote, Librarian at Lambeth Palace Library talking earlier in this discussion, I agreed with what he had to say about the value of heritage. As an Australian coming to London some years ago, I was attracted to that heritage of London and I think the vibrancy of historic buildings and the culture that goes on in them will attract talent that London is looking for. We have the heritage of a Grade II listed building which some people thought we should knock down but I am glad we didn't, you just cannot re-create that history and if we had we would have been like any other riverside development.'

Image below: Courtesy of LDA Design, showing offices and public spaces

Future Cities Forum would like to thank all the contributors who gave their time and commitment to this fascinating and important debate.


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