Developers are using their “place-making” skills to create entire new neighbourhoods and mini-districts that bring fresh transport, amenities and even a workplace as well as a place to live.
With the pandemic propelling the importance of green space and wellbeing, these large development projects have a special role to play - which is why our New Homes Awards champion the best examples. And we look forward to even more entries next year.
Southmere in Thamesmead
Boosted by a brand-new Crossrail station and a fresh, bold vision on the part of housing charity Peabody, Thamesmead in south-east London is getting a second chance to become the desirable place to live that its idealistic original planners envisaged.
One of the capital’s youngest and still most affordable addresses, it was “created” in the Sixties on 1,300 acres of marshland previously used as rifle ranges by old Woolwich Arsenal.
The area, its name chosen in a competition that had 565 entries, was a brave new world of stark, white modernist homes - a mix of high-rise blocks, elevated walkways, stacked maisonettes and low-rise terraces of family houses, all intended to help solve London’s housing shortage.
Well-meaning architects envisioned a luxe Riviera marina lifestyle for the 60,000 inhabitants of the new town. Lakes and canals, jetties, bridges and raised paths were an integral part of the design, also helping to drain a high-water area that was susceptible to flooding. A futuristic health centre was constructed on stilts over the water, while the sense of calm and wellbeing was also intended to reduce crime and vandalism. But this dream set in concrete quickly unravelled.
Despite the formal beauty, flaws were discovered in the concrete construction system, while a significant failure was the district’s lack of shops and banks, and the absence of the public transport that was really so necessary because of Thamesmead’s cut-off location.
Ominously, in 1971, the district was the setting for A Clockwork Orange, the famous Stanley Kubrick film that depicted an alienated gang of violent, bowler-hatted, baseball bat-wielding young thugs.
While two thirds of the original estate remain, Peabody is seeking to address past mistakes by building up to 20,000 new homes of every tenure over the next 30 years, along with lots of shops and new amenities such as a library and community centre, crèche, cafés and gym, a new sailing club, gardens and attractive public areas alongside the water.
Peabody has also put a cultural strategy in place, which includes an annual festival to consolidate the local art scene.
There’s a new spine road, or high street, with improved pedestrian and cycle routes to nearby Abbey Wood Crossrail station providing fast links to Canary Wharf and central London. There is also talk of a Docklands Light Railway extension.
And it will not just be a housing estate. There are plans for a medical training facility with affordable accommodation for healthcare workers, the inspiration being Imperial College London’s new research campus at White City. In one way at least, it’s back to the future.
The first phase of 1,500 homes, takes design inspiration from 19th-century Peabody estates.
Clusters of handsome, mellow-brick blocks are grouped around shared raised courtyards, creating smaller communities within the larger whole.
Where once were towers, there will now be a sequence of streets and lakeside squares, one with the focal point of a water clock tower and an arcade of shops.
Apartments have underfloor heating, Amtico flooring and higher-than-average ceilings, and some boast superb terraces.
There is a concierge service and wifi-enabled lounges for residents who want to chill out or work. Prices start at £297,500 and the vast majority of homes cost less than the £600,000 Help to Buy limit.
As well as flats, shared equity houses are being built, while homes are also available on a shared ownership basis. Call 020 8740 2060.
250 City Road, Square Mile
Meanwhile, Berkeley says it builds not just homes but neighbourhoods, too. Indeed, place-making is a major factor in 250 City Road, the developer’s 930-home scheme on a former industrial estate in EC1.
Until around 1990, this district on the Square Mile’s northeastern fringe was a lively commercial quarter, and then with startling suddenness it fell almost silent, leaving a sad streetscape of industrial buildings that nobody wanted. Trades and crafts such as printing and watch-making, that had flourished over the previous two centuries, died out in the area or departed as technology changed.
Yet some old institutions remain.
City University, with its growing campus radiating out from Georgian Northampton Square, helps set the tone of an area that still feels like a secret. Here, too, is the ancient parish of St Luke’s, with the eponymous 18th-century Hawksmoor church -now a recording studio for London Symphony Orchestra - plus a splendid Art Deco public baths at its centre.
In recent years, a revival has been under way, fuelled by the rise of the nearby Shoreditch tech cluster, with mainly small-scale developments of loft-style offices and flats.
A step up in scale, 250 City Road includes two towers, a central plaza, offices for digital companies and start-ups, shops, bars, eateries and a four-star hotel.
At its heart is a two-acre “urban oasis”, attractively landscaped with secluded courtyards and retreat areas, all fully wifi-enabled for relaxed alfresco working during the summer months.
Designed by architect Foster + Partners, each of the buildings is set at an angle to maximise views of London landmarks, from the Wembley Arch to the Gherkin. Glass-clad blocks have light-filled winter gardens, and the towers are subtly lit internally.
Berkeley has packed in leisure facilities reminiscent of a high-end private health club, while there’s also a rooftop gym and terraces, residents lounges, 24-hour concierge services, underground parking and bike storage.
Prices start at £815,000, with stunning penthouses costing from £2.9 million. Call 020 3925 9905.