North Greenwich

Creating a New Design District in London

The biggest news about this year’s London Design Festival was the location of the main trade show in a completely new Design District in Greenwich.

The district is covering a new area in East London, which consists of 16 buildings by eight architects. It forms a tight cluster of modern and different looking, relatively low buildings in a very urban neighbourhood.

The aim is to create a local design community by offering affordable spaces to rent mainly for offices and design studios. It is a very ambitious goal, since there is not much arts & culture so far in the area. Design communities are normally born and evolve organically in areas with strong cultural ties. To start from scratch and create a vibrant design community only based on renting work spaces sounds unrealistic. However, time will tell if it will be successful.

A clear disadvantage for the district is the distant location from central London. However, East London has huge housing development projects at the moment. So, in a long run the area will be a larger centre of its own.

It is an expensive gamble of development. But the buildings look very cool, and probably will have tenants. How creative, culture or art related they are going to be is another question.

Each building has a different identity, and the selection of used materials reflects that. Many materials look like recycled or sustainable ones.

Place making challenge

Community and cultural context are key factors in creating an identity for a design district. No place exists in a vacuum, instead there are existing communities in surrounding areas. To blend existing communities with a new one is always challenging.

The location of the new Design District is next to O2 arena and a tube station. Although the arena offers a diverse cultural program, visitors for these mass events are mostly not locals can can cause huge disruptions to local life. To be a culturally vibrant the area needs a local and more permanent presentation of arts and entertainment.

Another permanent resident in the location is the Ravensbourne University, which absolutely can be a key success factor in creating a vibrant design community.

At the moment there are some missed opportunities. An obvious one so far is the complete lack of green spaces, and proper communal outdoor spaces. It is hard to imagine a more urban landscape (= mostly concrete). The idea has been to create a dense cluster of building that forces closeness of the work communities. In a way, the architecture is expected to create the communal feeling. I expect that in later stages of development of the larger area, more green spaces will be designed for it.

As it is targeted for creatives, the obvious must for the district is a large variety of cultural offering = bars, restaurants, hospitality, galleries, cinema, theaters, sports, gathering spaces etc. At the moment a lot is missing. As the area is developing it remains to be seen if it has pulling power and how attractive it becomes.

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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