How London’s Greenwich Peninsula became a vibrant design district


The posters are optimistic enough: “Welcome to the new London” and “A new destination for contemporary city life”. Perhaps the only surprise is that they are next to the old Millennium Dome and not far from the southern terminus of the Emirates Air Line cable car. It’s a reminder that the Greenwich Peninsula is an area that has seen more than its fair share of fresh starts over the past 25 years.

In the late 1990s, this former industrial area – once the site of Europe’s largest gas plant – was decontaminated and redeveloped by Tony Blair’s Labor government, who built the Dome and attempted to transform the surrounding area. in the most recent village of London. In 2012, former Mayor Boris Johnson’s cable car arrived, supposedly erected to draw visitors to the area but widely ridiculed as a white elephant; in 2019, it was The Tide, an “elevated linear park” along the Thames, billed as London’s response to New York’s High Line (one critic was harsher: “unnecessary madness”).

The latest reboot comes courtesy of developer Knight Dragon, who has led the Peninsula Renewal for nine years and must hope his vision for the region is the one that remains. Called the Design District, it is built around a 150,000 square foot “creative district”, providing affordable workspace for 1,800 people. Comprised of 16 buildings designed by eight architectural firms, it will serve as a hub for designers, fashion designers, artists and tech entrepreneurs, while being a new destination for anyone interested in these worlds.

With 12 of the buildings open in time for this month’s London Design Festival, this is a development that aims to show that the post-pandemic city and its creatives are not just open for business, but ready to all that will follow.

As I wandered the site last month, from offices to dance studios and designer workshops, what is most striking is the amalgamation of aesthetics, angles and facades in a fusion of architectural styles. This is the result of designing the studios “blind” to each other, an unconventional approach taken by lead planners HNNA and Knight Dragon, but which lends itself to the variety of spaces needed to house diverse residents. .

London-based studio HNNA used clean, sinuous lines in one of the two buildings it designed © Maite de Orbe

As you walk through narrow passages that open onto “workers’ courtyards”, there is no lack of moments of discovery: from the landscaping that changes with the seasons to the small Roman atrium-style seats where you can imagine a show in Classes. The new public spaces, designed by Copenhagen urban designers Schulze + Grassov, were influenced by those in Tokyo and the Moroccan souks, according to Matthew Dearlove, design manager for the Greenwich Peninsula.

“With height restrictions in place to preserve the view of the Dome, it gave us the opportunity to create a neighborhood with its own identity,” says Dearlove. “Immersive” and “productive” were the keywords in the design brief he described, as were “low cost”. Not only leveraging its flashy architecture to tempt creatives in the area, workspaces are priced at £ 5 per square foot for the first 12 months. Even taking into account the additional service charges – starting at £ 10 per square foot and roughly equivalent to areas like Shoreditch or Clerkenwell – it’s very competitive.

Helen Arvanitakis, Director of Design District, with Matthew Dearlove, Greenwich Peninsula Design Manager

Helen Arvanitakis, Director of Design District, with Matthew Dearlove, Design Manager of Greenwich Peninsula © Maite de Orbe

Helen Arvanitakis, director of the Design District, said part of her ambition was to help companies get back on their feet after Covid-19 and raise the level of studio space that creatives expect. “As an industry, [it] is one of the UK’s best exports, ”she says. “Why don’t we build specially designed, beautiful and safe spaces for them to do their best? “

One of the founding tenants is the design and technology-driven University of Ravensbourne, which moved into a purpose-built headquarters near the peninsula in 2010. Its new Institute for Creativity and Technology will be housed in a four-story building with a reflective aluminum facade and floor-to-ceiling windows, designed by Spanish-Italian architects Barozzi Veiga. It is a center for higher studies, research and industrial partnerships at the cutting edge of creative technology.

“Harnessing the passion of graduates and connecting it with businesses will only encourage new ideas and innovation,” says Arvanitakis.

Office, coworking space and members' club

Office, co-working space and members’ club © Maite de Orbe

Other tenants include Queercircle, an LGBTQ +-led nonprofit that combines arts and social action, and ConceptKicks, a shoe design research project led by product designer Daniel Bailey. “We want cross-pollination of the creative sectors,” says Arvanitakis. “Each building is a mixture of sectors with no specific areas designated for one. That way, it will inspire collaborations. The plan is for everyone to go online: Creatives could do everything from 3D printing and food preparation, organizing events and scheduling photo ops, without leaving the neighborhood. Equally important is fostering a sense of community. “Collaboration is at the heart of our program,” says Ashley Joiner, founder of Queercircle, “especially since we provide a space where LGBTQ + people feel comfortable enough to go and meet new people” .

Interior of an empty room with high ceilings in the office

Office Offers Office offers everything from hot desking to equipped studios © Maite de Orbe

Freelance freelancers are also in the sights of developers: a co-working space called Office is part of the scheme, offering office space from £ 125 per month. Nearby is Canteen, the neighborhood food hall, housed in a caterpillar-shaped structure designed by SelgasCano. There is a common basketball court and work classes for those who want to eat, work and soak up the environment.

London Design Festival on the Greenwich Peninsula

Two of the District’s buildings will be occupied by art and design exhibitions until October. A series of talks on fashion, design and creative innovation, hosted by Nick Compton of Wallpaper magazine, will take place from September 21 to 23. Other highlights include a hoarding installation by artist Lois O’Hara on buildings B3 and B4, recycled plastic furniture designed by Smile Plastics, and an electric bike pop-up for Polestar.

Coinciding with the opening on September 15, visitors will also be able to admire Art Block, a free art exhibition in two of the buildings presented in collaboration with the neighboring NOW Gallery. A series of lectures is also scheduled for September 21-23, addressing topics such as design, fashion and crafts. Plans are forming for the opening of workshops throughout the neighborhood.

With rising house prices and the lack of available workshops endangering many creative sectors in London, Design District is a welcome addition to the capital. The question, of course, is whether they can get away with it. The pandemic has changed the way people work, perhaps for good, and not just in London or among those in the design industry. Developers who have committed to huge office buildings in central shopping areas now find themselves on display: smaller, more flexible workspaces and mixed-use planning, in which small manufacturers sit alongside artist studios. and flexible offices, is a vision of the future.

Members of the Clod Ensemble Jonathon Baker, Suzy Willson, Valerie Ebuwa, Djenaba Davis-Eyo

Members of the Clod Ensemble Jonathon Baker, Suzy Willson, Valerie Ebuwa, Djenaba Davis-Eyo © Maite de Orbe

New residents are arriving this month. With the Design District just 15 minutes from central London on the tube and plans for a new station, 17,000 new homes and a park, the hope is that many more will follow. The performing arts group Clod Ensemble recently moved to the top floor of a building designed by Mole Architects, a multi-level structure clad in Corten steel with large slanted glass panels on the roof creating a bright space for the group. The whole dreamed “for a long time” of its own studio, explains its director Suzy Willson.

Willson certainly hopes the time for the Greenwich Peninsula has finally come. “Initiatives that value and respect artists, understand the contribution they make to communities and provide them with affordable workspace are incredibly rare,” she says.

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