Hackney Wick 2020

Place Making for New Normal

Lockdown life is revealing how well local neighbourhoods are designed to serve the needs of residents. Are they supportive safe havens in crisis? Some new neighbourhoods turn out NOT to be delivering what is being advertised.


There are areas in London that are quickly loosing identity in the process of gentrification. New neighbourhoods can often lack character, but what about new neighbourhoods in parts of city with already strong identity and unique history?

One example is the Fish Island & Hackney Wick canalside area development in East London. It iwas mostly known for artistic and industrial heritage. The vibrandt art community had 610 studios, with up to five artists per studio. It was possibly the highest density of artists in Europe. Most of these buildings are now demolished.

Hackney Wick 2020
Few remaining artist studios and industrial warehouses in the canal-side waterfront
Hackney Wick 2020
Many buildings are considered important to Britain’s industrial heritage, though there are no listed buildings in the area.


New neighbourhood is mostly built now. It is marketed as authentic, vibrant and eclectic.

On the left is the new development. On the right is Carpenters Wharf which was built a couple of years ago. Unfortunately it is hard to see any distinctive character in the new development. However, Carpenters Wharf building is following closely local historical references and craftmanship. (It is also a boutique development not including affordable flats).

There are 35% affordable flats in the new development, so compromises are understandable to make it ‘economically viable’ and ‘timeless’. But does timeless design have to mean generic? Only characteristics to spot in the mix of buildings is the type of brick used.

“We look to develop the design of our projects based on an intimate understanding of context. At Fish Island, we are hoping to harness the characteristics that contribute to the area’s vibrancy, creating something playful and unique”. Lyndon Goode architects

Fish Island 2020

The industrial heritage influence has been very trendy for a long time. A pitched roof building type introduces some variation in the new buildings.


The problems with density building come very obvious during lockdown.

Fish Island 2020

This area is very densily built. It is hard to imagine the appeal to buy these overpriced flats looking into a brickwall or inside neighbours bedroom while being stuck indoors for long periods since, it is always the very small minority of the flats that offer open views.

Fish Island 2020

On the ground level the small courtyards are completely empty and distinctively bare. Increasing use of minimalist stone gardens is a low maintenance and therefore a low cost option. Narrow and very dark alleys of the neighbourhood are deserted. Small inset balconies look very dark in the middle of the day.

All and all this residential area (with a few mixed use additions) looks to be purposefully designed to avoid people hanging around. It is in a stark contrast with huge crowds on the canal-side walkway in a short distance.

Fish Island 2020

“At Fish Island, we are hoping to harness the characteristics that contribute to the area’s vibrancy, creating something playful and unique”. A representative of Pitman Tozer


It is easy to spot what Fish Island new development is lacking. Social and cultural livelyhood requires inviting public spaces. There are no spaces in the area inviting enough to bring people together. The artist studios that are left will dissapear when gentrification advances. A few cafes won’t alone save the area.

Back in the day Jane Jacobs told citizens to take ownership of streets. Are we still NOT designing cities for people? Is it ok to demolish culturally import areas?

Pandemic and lockdown life has changed people’s values around how they want to live in the future. Neighbourhoods have gain importance in people’s lives. Home is not just a place where to go to sleep.

Success criteria for Place Making:

  • Strong local (collective) identity
  • Distinctive character
  • Mixed use (home, work, shop, play)
  • Robust community services
  • Shared public spaces
  • Connection to nature


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