Written by Thomas Stellmach

Claudia Strahl at the TU Munich

Claudia Strahl at the TU Munich by Thomas Stellmach

I recently held a lecture at the TU MUNICH, Department for Landscape Architecture and Public Space, on the topic of public space in London, presenting some of the work at maxwan architects in Rotterdam. Here’s is an excerpt of it:

Cross River Park, UK

Cross River Park in its final stage

“Cross River Park in its final stage”

The Cross River Park is in the immediate neighbourhood of the Barking Riverside development in East London. The approximate size of the park is 350 ha with a distance of roughly 9km to the city centre. The brief for the feasibility study was to bring two communities (Newham and Dagenham) along with the two landscapes on either side of the River in the London Thames Gateway closer together. A new bridge, the Thames Gateway Bridge, with a height of 50m and a length of 600m, will be the missing link between the divided communities and therefore an important element of the park.

The area proposed for CRP features unique opportunities: It is one of the few areas in East London where access to the Thames riverfront is possible. The CRP area is environmentally diverse; it features wetlands and a variety of flora and fauna alongside sites of heavily contaminated land and former industrial land uses. A look on the map of London shows however, that the area is a typical ‘dumping-place’ of all those functions and institutions which are regarded as the most unattractive ones in a city, such as: waste-deposits, Sewage-works, Gas- Works, Logistics, a Jail and an Airport. The site is both smelly and it’s noisy: it is the typical part of a city you would normally never go to without a specific, pragmatic purpose.

Hardly access through fenced industrial areas

“No access for you. (site photo)”

The historic evolution of heavy service industries in the area, dating back to the extensions to the Woolwich Arsenal and the 150yr old Sewage and (later) gas works have been significant barriers to integrated planning. Each function is isolated, and the area is difficult to cross; beside a few lines, points and pockets of vegetation, it has few ecological or recreational qualities. The area is the ‘belly’ of East London: It contains those ‘organs’ of the body/city which guarantee its metabolism. Concerning the present debate on ecology, this could be an interesting and stimulating aspect. Incorporating the sewage plant and the waste-deposits as well as the gas-works and the logistics into the park concept could set the park apart. The CRP area experiences strong pressure from current regional developments, including significant areas of housing, sewage works expansion, or the displacement of warehouses due to the Olympic Games.

CRP’s potential to become a High Quality Park for the 21st century will be reached by synchronizing the interests of the different stakeholders, being the logistic buildings, the sewage plant and gas works, and the new or existing populated areas. Therefore, CRP needs strong leadership to gather everybody under the ‘umbrella’ of CRP’s vision and turn them into active partners rather than indifferent neighbours. The opportunities at CRP are therefore both unique and complex, but offer fantastic possibilities to interact with the river and the new bridge, and unlock an intriguing mosaic of hitherto hidden sites and functions of the living city.

“Educational” pathes

““Educational” paths”

Moving forward, the creation of Cross River Park will require political and economic courage. Its success depends an alternative way of acting and doing, rather than planning extensively. The process could and should start immediately by opening the area to the public, and creating small events and interventions.

Masterplan Barking Riverside, UK

High density development along the shore with communal courts

“High density development along the shore with communal courts”

Area of development

“Area of development”

Public Spaces Barking Riverside

“Public Spaces Barking Riverside”

This is a masterplan we have been busy with for the last couple of years in London. Barking Riverside is a housing development with a site area of 180ha. Because of its size and the proximity to the city centre of London, the housing development has been chosen by the Greater London Authority (GLA) as one of seven outstanding housing developments in the Greater London area.

Besides our urban proposal there are several large-scale developments along the River Thames. Mostly these involve the regeneration of the former docklands, industrial areas and open brown fields out of use for a long period. In a way, these are the last opportunities within London for such large scale developments of new employment and housing areas for the growth of the London population.

The project consists of 11’000 dwellings (average density 120 dw/ha) with commercial, employment, education, health and sport facilities. The site is located approximately 10km east of London city centre and about 5km form the London City Airport. The extension of the Docklands Light Railway to this project site with 3 stations makes this development possible in the first place.

Our site was originally the location of Coal-Fired Power Plants, once the largest in all of Europe. After the closing of this power plant, and because of its contaminated ground and its isolated location from the city centre of London, this site was neglected for many years. At one point the Borough of “Barking and Dagenham” was rated the tenth worst place in the UK for its contamination of asbestos. But on the other hand, this site has been one of the richest nature reserve area for a wide range of species because of its size and isolation from the surroundings, as well the beautiful scenery along the river.

In this project we had to deal with many different parties. In the usual planning process of a UK housing development you only have to convince the borough to get what they call a “Planning application”. But in the case of this project, we had to convince all the parties in this chart more or less. Actually, there were two previous masterplans for this development; but in both cases, the masterplan was rejected by the borough. Maxwan finally made it to the “planning application” phase in 2006.

The urban design framework (UDF) plan shows the primary and secondary road structure, developable housing areas, trajectories of the 2 major public transport lines, including the position of the stations and stops, major public space, Parks and the conservation area for the nature. And this plan was made with the synthesis of all the constraints of this site such as the exiting overhead electrical lines, nature reserve, topography of the site with flooding issues, and the connections to the surrounding neighbourhood.

After submitting this urban design framework with all the descriptions and guidelines for major public space and main roads, we received the further request from the Greater London Authority for developing the quality and design guidelines of the housing area, in order to show the atmosphere of each neighbourhood in greater detail. The concept of “Design Guidelines” for such a large development was an experimental thing for the city of London at that time. Since their ambition for this project is so high, they have tried very hard to prevent the anarchic development of each plot by the local developers.

The Urban Design Guidelines (UDG) are split-up into two categories: the rules and the guides. The Rules were obligatory in the sense that the architects must stick to them; whereas the guides give an indication of how certain aspects should be dealt with. The realm of work in this phase contains the creation of varied streetscapes, diverse block typologies and specific buildings as well as guidelines for play, sport and recreation areas. The Landscape and ecological guidelines aim to increase existing habitats for animals, as well as creating people zones in the heart of the urban development. Our role as a masterplanner has come to an end, yet maxwan is now involved in selecting the architects for the development.

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