New developments: solving the identity crisis

Mowat and Company Share Their Ideas on New Developments: Solving the Identity Crisis

“Buy land: They are not making it anymore.” Yes, it’s an old and probably overused quote from Mark Twain. In London it gets more and more accurate everyday. We are trying to fit more and more people within the same sized city. Developers are intensifying every bit of land possible. New residential buildings are getting taller. Paradoxically at street level they are often devoid of activity and the ground floors can remain un-let for months if not years. Mainstream retailers are struggling to find customers and independent companies are being priced out.

Barratt Homes, Southwark Council and South Bank University have recently re-developed properties around St. George’s Circus in London. Together they have taken the opportunity to use good design to do things differently.

The residents of 336 new homes and countless students are now starting to use the space. It’s gone from an unsafe and neglected roundabout to a distinct place in a very short time. Barratts, the Council and the University have created high ceilinged shopfronts looking onto the main frontages. Between these shops are residential entrances which are proud, wide and generous and importantly not hidden away at the back. There are the natural comings and goings of residents, students, deliveries and visitors, making the street active.

In the connecting side streets, often neglected by developers, there are small courtyards. Opening onto these are more economical spaces, occupied by independent businesses that don’t rely on passing trade. Graphic designers, photographers and charities are unpacking and moving in. We have been fortunate enough to design two of these spaces. We are glad that these creative and independent employers can join us and thrive in our neighbourhood.

St. George’s Circus is not just another story of London’s cycle of renewal, gentrification and intensification. It’s not typical. It may be quiet, but its an extraordinary piece of city making. If we learn from this place, then we can do it elsewhere.

To read about one occupier in this development, NB Studio, please click here.

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