Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Smithfield joins the 'culture club'

Fabric, Museum of London and Crossrail spark residential revival on historic City fringes. Smithfield will become one of the best-connected areas in London when Crossrail opens next year, with a third of the population of England suddenly within a 45-minute journey of this historic north-west corner of the City.

Bursting with bars, restaurants and tourists, parts of Smithfield have nevertheless retained a quiet residential feel. However, the “culture club effect” is about to change all that. 

The Museum of London is planning its move from London Wall, half a mile away, into its new home in redeveloped Smithfield Market’s fine Victorian buildings. Tate Modern, in the old Bankside Power Station, is one London pearl around which new residential life grew, while Central Saint Martin’s art and design school saw King’s Cross reborn with new homes and mixed-use developments. The Museum of London plans to do the same with its huge new gallery space in Smithfield, using Stanton Williams, the award-winning architects who carefully curated the design for Central Saint Martins, where they incorporated the Victorian roots of the old granary building and sympathetically built-on a stunning new campus. 

A short walk from the City and Barbican, Smithfield connects the Square Mile to Farringdon, Clerkenwell and beyond. Built on burial grounds and claypits, it is rich in history, with a medieval street plan of courtyards, lanes, alleys and remnants of monasteries. St Bartholomew’s Hospital, founded in 1123, ticks on here, while in the listed meat market buildings, porters in white coats and hats dash along carrying carcasses and look forward to a pint with their breakfast fry-up at local pubs. Smithfield is one of the few places in London where the medieval footprint endures 

Museum of London director Sharon Ament believes the move will transform the area. “We anticipate the change will be as profound or more so than Bankside,” she says. The Victorian General Market buildings in West Smithfield have been the subject of debate and many aborted redevelopment schemes for years. “The buildings need to be inhabited and brought back to life again and given a profoundly new purpose, which we will bring to it,” says Ament.

The museum, which opened in 1976 and receives about 1.25 million visitors a year, documents the history of London from prehistoric to present day. With the move, it aims to become one of the capital’s top five most-visited museums. The scheme will open up the historic building at West Smithfield, placing galleries both temporary and permanent  beneath the 50ft-wide Smithfield dome, and is intended to provide space for other similar institutions, along with a rooftop restaurant, café and terrace. 

The project is already attracting residential schemes. Ament says the area will be more “liveable”. There is talk of the ripple effect reaching Hatton Garden jewellery quarter and even as far as City Road. The recent reopening of Fabric nightclub close to the market is already adding to the buzz. 


A new neighbourhood

Less than a minute’s walk from the market, Barts Square is a major 3.2-acre residential and offices project by developer Helical. This new EC1 neighbourhood of one-, two- and three-bedroom loft-style apartments and penthouses is in a wide mix of buildings that respect the area’s medieval footprint.

The first phase is already 75 per cent sold, with buyers drawn to the district’s connectivity, cafés and restaurants, and the cultural hub of the Barbican. “The Museum of London is huge good news for us, a big contribution to the regeneration of the area,” says Helical development executive Nikki Dibley.

Helical was attracted to Smithfield and its historic architecture while it was  refurbishing 200 Aldersgate as offices, and looked at the site nearby when it came up for sale. Barts Square will provide 236 homes in 13 buildings which are all of a different design. The aim is to preserve the site’s intimate nature. Due to the scheme being conservation-led and low rise, says Dibley, Helical is going for a variety of unit types rather than a tower scheme with identical units “stacked” up the building. 

Barts Square has been a big hit among British buyers, and it is believed the appeal for them may lie in its flexible designs that accommodate families and couples, rather than overseas buyers investing in crash pads.  Prices at Barts Square start from £790,000. 

One building references traditional London mews houses, while another,  designed by Piercy&Company and facing the cloister of Grade I-listed St Bartholomew-the-Great Church, features  white glazed ceramic tiles cast with a bas-relief lace pattern, in a nod to the lacemaking that used to go on in the church. 

The scheme’s facilities include a screening room, residents’ lounge overlooking a communal garden, private dining/meeting room and basement car parking, as well as on-site retail and restaurants. The first apartments will be finished  in phased completions this summer. Dibley says: “If someone had come in and said that they wanted a two-bedroom home on day one, they would have had a choice of 20 different apartment types. That’s what makes it special.”

Arty Barbican homes

At Blake Tower on the Barbican Estate, Redrow London has created 74 “art-inspired” homes in a former YMCA hostel, with interiors by Conran and Partners. The scheme houses a collection of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and studios in a 17-storey building, and is a walk away from the theatres, cinemas and bars on the estate. 

City worker Dr Clive Rankin, a long-time admirer of the Barbican Estate, bought an apartment in Blake Tower off-plan, and will move in towards summer. “The area is really vibrant, with great restaurants from revered chefs and there is always something happening, be it an exhibition or a play in the surrounding streets,” he says. He decided to buy after being impressed by the high spec of the show apartment. “Having a 24-hour concierge and being so conveniently located, with great entertainment options, meant Blake Tower was ideal for me,” he says.  Prices at Blake Tower start from £695,000.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

River Fleet Square

Unlock regeneration potential with a new public space inspired by the River Fleet

River Fleet Square would reinvent the current public realm, which does nothing to recognise the potential of the site as a world-class public square surrounded by impressive architecture.


River Fleet Square proposes a high-quality public square to capitalise on the wasted space created by the railway cutting at the junction of Farringdon Road and Clerkenwell Road. The Square would unlock regeneration potential and highlight the quality of the surrounding buildings and views to St Paul’s Cathedral.

The shape of the space would be formed by its history, which is a valley where the River Fleet once flowed towards the Thames. The river, which became an open sewer, was culverted in the 1860s and the Underground was then built through the deep cutting.

The design would draw reference from the lost River Fleet in the form of shallow water features, slowly flowing southwards. The layout would be reasonably formal, with lines of pleached trees and low-level geometric planting providing shade and texture in the urban setting.

A key hub within the Square would be Clerkenwell Circus – a junction that would form a new gateway for pedestrians and cyclists heading east along quiet back-streets.

The Square would also accommodate paved areas for pavement cafes, particularly on the eastern side which benefits from day-time and evening sun. There is potential to involve the local Italian population in the creation of the Square – perhaps it could even become a ‘Little Italy’ for London.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Museum of London move to Smithfield Market passes funding hurdle

Plans to redevelop famous Victorian location see £180m raised toward £250m target


The scheme will see the Museum of London move to a new location among the current disused Smithfield Market buildings

Plans to turn one of London’s finest Victorian market buildings into a museum for the capital have moved closer after the Museum of London said it had raised £180m toward its £250m target for the redevelopment.

In the first big funding milestone for the project, the City of London Corporation — the Square Mile’s local authority — will contribute £110m and the Mayor of London £70m — City Hall’s largest investment to date in a cultural initiative.

The scheme will see the museum move to a new location among the current disused market buildings at West Smithfield, leaving its old site next to the Barbican complex free to be redeveloped under a separate plan for a world-class concert hall.

The Victorian structures, including the General Market and Fish Market, will be revamped under a scheme by architects Stanton Williams and Asif Khan, with a glass-topped dome bringing light into the building, an innovative spiral escalator and a series of underground chambers to display some of the institution’s 6m objects over nearly 9,500 sq m of gallery space.

An artist's impression of how the new museum will look

The museum will submit its planning application to the City of London Corporation in 2018, with a view to opening its doors in 2022.

City Hall’s £70m contribution will not come from its existing budget: the City of London Corporation will lend it the money, which it will pay back to the local authority over 25 years. The Museum of London aims to raise the rest of the funding through a public campaign and by tapping corporate sponsors and private philanthropists.

Victorian structures at Smithfield General Market

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said the contribution was part of his pledge to make culture a “core priority” of his mayoralty. “This major landmark project will be a jewel in our crown . . . It will rejuvenate West Smithfield, protecting its heritage while also creating a dynamic new public space — strengthening London’s credentials as an international powerhouse for culture.”

Much of the money will be spent on securing the 1880s buildings, which are in a state of disrepair, having been allowed to deteriorate since their closure. A previous plan to develop the buildings as offices and retail was blocked by the government in 2015 after meeting opposition from heritage campaigners angered by the proposed destruction of the roof and other parts of the buildings.

Children help collect money for the war effort at Smithfield's market in 1916. 
The site languished throughout the 1990s and 2000s but is at the heart of an area that has seen rapid redevelopment. The disused General Market sits close to the Central Market, which continues as a wholesale meat business, as well as the renewed transport hub of Farringdon, part of the Thameslink rail network, London Underground and the east-west Crossrail line, which is expected to open fully in 2019.

The museum is central to the Corporation’s plans for a so-called “cultural hub” in the area, in partnership with the Barbican Centre, the Guildhall School of Music, London Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of London. Its current building, at a busy transport junction on London Wall, can only be accessed via a series of pedestrian walkways above the road and does not allow room for expansion of the collection.


Friday, 20 January 2017

Postcard from . . . London

After 669 years as a monastery, mansion and almshouse, the Charterhouse will finally open to the public this week


Just north of Smithfield Market, the Charterhouse is a strong contender for the most historically interesting site in central London that no one’s really heard of. You may well have seen its picturesque courtyards and cloisters on film, though: their credits include playing Pip’s childhood home in Great Expectations, a field hospital in Downton Abbey and the backdrop to Tom Hardy’s dark machinations in Regency drama Taboo. But this Friday, the opening of a new museum and the launch of regular tours will mark the first time in its 669-year history that this curious complex has been open to the public on anything more than an ad hoc basis.

For its coming out, the Charterhouse has adopted the slogan “living the nation’s history since 1348” and the hubris is not misplaced. The site began life as a Carthusian monastery where monks spent their days praying for the souls of the Black Plague victims buried in mass graves nearby. After the dissolution of the monasteries it was rebuilt as a Tudor mansion that played host to Queen Elizabeth I and King James. In 1611, the wealthy merchant Thomas Sutton bought the estate and, in what was perhaps the most lavish act of philanthropy of its time, turned it into a school (since moved out to Surrey) and an almshouse for gentlemen pensioners “ruined by shipwreck or other calamity”.

Today the Charterhouse is still an almshouse home to more than 40 residents known as “brothers” (a label stripped of its religious connotations), men who have been admitted on the grounds that they are over 60, single and in need of financial or social support. Because most current residents learned of the unusual set-up via word of mouth it has generally attracted a particular clientele. “Most of the guys here are middle-class,” development director Dominic Tickell tells me. “They’re people who suddenly get to the age of 60, 65, 70 and realise they can’t get on [alone].”


We are standing in the Charterhouse’s largest, most verdant courtyard, a place where the only reminder of the clamorous city beyond these high walls is a single Barbican Estate tower, jutting skyward to the south. It is the first truly sunny day in January and brothers in smart day suits amble past us shouting plummy-accented hellos.

In the new museum, visitors will be able to watch videos of the current brothers’ daily routine. They will also be able to gawp at artefacts from the Charterhouse’s less tranquil interludes: there is a skeleton from the neighbouring plague pit and a 16th-century engraving showing the gory murder of the Carthusian monks by Henry VIII’s men. This was once the Duke of Norfolk’s home, and in a cupboard marked “Secrets” visitors can read copies of the ciphered letters that proved him guilty him of conspiring to put Mary Stuart on the throne.

This small but interesting collection of artefacts should be seen in conjunction with a guided tour. The Charterhouse tells its history best through its buildings, which range in style from medieval to modern, taking in most things in between. Structures have gone up around or on top of their predecessors, such as the medieval cloister - one cell door is still visible - which Norfolk turned into a passageway leading to his tennis courts. Some important features have been moved wholesale from one part of the complex to another, others are old imitations of even earlier styles. Adding to this picturesque architectural commotion is the fact that many buildings were destroyed by incendiary bombs in 1941 and no one is precisely sure where the postwar reconstruction begins and ends.

There is a fear among some commentators, and indeed some brothers, that this new, public chapter at the Charterhouse will throw the historically self-contained community off balance. It is a fair concern: right now this feels like an outpost of institutional eccentricity, and the transition to national treasure status, which seems inevitable, may transform its peculiarities into something that feels more studied - twee, even.

But brothers who find the visitors to be an unwelcome presence might spare a thought for the Charterhouse’s 16th-century owner Sir Edward North, who was so financially crippled by Queen Elizabeth I’s last stay here in 1561 that, the story goes, he promptly retired from court and spent the rest of his life as a social recluse. Unlike the Queen, at least this coming wave of visitors will be gone by 6pm.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Farringdon Fleet

Benedetti Architects proposal to repair the urban fabric by spanning the railway cutting to create a large new public space linked to Clerkenwell Green, with newly animated street frontages, 24-hour galleria and mixed-use development that re-establishes the physical and historical connections of the area.


Retail galleria on route of the historic River Fleet with new landmark office building and apartments. The new public space piazza also re-establishes the rightful prominence of the grade II listed Old Sessions House.



Benedetti Architects Projects website

Friday, 19 August 2016

Clerkenwell bucks the central London price dip

If nothing else, Clerkenwell in the 16th century would have been a good place for a stag do. Just north of the London Wall — and thus outside the jurisdiction of the puritanical City fathers — Clerkenwell’s Turnmill Street (sometimes “Turnbull”) was a crowded strip of boozing dens, bowling alleys, dice houses and brothels. Falstaff name-checks the road in Henry IV Part II, so Shakespeare must have been there (for research purposes, of course), and it is not hard to see why. “The most disreputable street in London,” is how Edward Sugden described it in his Topographical Dictionary of 1845, “a haunt of thieves and loose women”.

These days, those loose women would likely be priced out — a smart two-bedroom flat on Turnmill Street could cost you upwards of £1,300 per sq ft.

But Clerkenwell’s raffish reputation is central to its appeal, say local agents. And reputation seems to go a long way. With house prices plummeting in prime central London, Clerkenwell might just be the safest bet in the capital — or so says Raul Cimesa of Knight Frank.

According to their research, prices in Mayfair, Chelsea, Belgravia and Kensington are down. In Knightsbridge prices fell almost 8 per cent in the 12 months to July. Yet two districts have bucked the trend: Islington and the City Fringe. They have the highest price growth in central London at 4.3 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively. And Clerkenwell straddles both. One reason it has been outperforming is that — plush flats aside — it is relatively affordable. According to Zoopla, in Clerkenwell’s EC1 postcode, price per sq ft is £681; in the City of London’s EC2 (which covers Moorgate and Liverpool Street) it’s more than double, at £1,382 per sq ft. Even for prime properties, you’re looking at a big reduction, says Cimesa.

Another reason is the wealth of good stock. While a lot of slightly dated council blocks went up in the 1950s and 1960s, many of the 19th-century factories have now been converted into loft-style homes, which attract creative professionals. The indecorous alehouses are long-gone too, replaced by a modish restaurant scene that is constantly evolving. Among the first was St John, a former smokehouse where nose-to-tail eating chef Fergus Henderson put offal back on the menu in 1994. These days, you only need to see the queues outside Morito on Exmouth Market, the smaller sister restaurant to the much-cherished Moro (next door), as proof of the area’s popularity. But it’s not just foodies. According to John Watson, director of City Planning at Savills, Clerkenwell is in the middle of a cycle of gentrification. “The artists move in,” he says, “then the architects, then the money.” Clerkenwell, he says, is in “architects phase”.

The number of architects buying in the area is unsurprising when you look at Clerkenwell’s commercial tenants. Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid, BDP and Grimshaw Architects all have practices there. “Every architect I meet tells me they now have an office in Clerkenwell,” says Dara Huang, of Design Haus Liberty, who has moved to 82 Clerkenwell Road. Office rents have risen from £30 to £50 per sq ft in the past five years, according to data from CoStar.

You might be able to spot the proliferation of architects in EC1 from the properties on the market. They’ve been tinkered with. Hamptons International is selling a modernised six-bedroom terrace house on Britton Street with a sleek subterranean pool for £8m.

On Myddelton Square, Knight Frank is selling a six-bedroom home at £6.5m with a ground-floor conversion that uses the old Georgian exterior wall as the new interior wall of the dining room. It’s stylishly done and won the “Regeneration” prize at the 2014 International Design and Architectural Awards.

Too much change can be a bad thing, though. Residents are keen to protect Clerkenwell’s character; when plans were proposed for the development of the Royal Mail’s former sorting office at Mount Pleasant, locals demanded the $1bn scheme be more traditional and provide more affordable housing. Then London Mayor Boris Johnson was quick to brand protesters “bourgeois Nimbys,” but many think their response is justified. After all, Clerkenwell’s historic charm has kept its market buoyant.

How long will it last? According to Zoopla, over the past three months prices have come down about 1 per cent in Clerkenwell; and in the month following the Brexit vote, a four-bedroom conversion near St John Street had its price cut by more than 15 per cent to £5.5m.

But there might yet be good news for homeowners. In March the CBRE predicted that properties near new Crossrail stations — one will be at Farringdon — could attract an average yearly premium of 3.3 per cent above local market growth until 2018, when the Elizabeth Line is operational. “A lot of the impact from Crossrail has already happened,” says Cimesa. “Whether architects or bankers invest [in Clerkenwell], there’ll be demand in this attractive area.”

Buying guide

● The City of London’s Cultural Hub will be centered around the Barbican complex and will involve the development of new cultural venues, schools and educational programmes over the next 10-15 years.

● The Crossrail station at Farringdon will open in December 2018. Its east-west line will cut journey times to Canary Wharf to 8 minutes and Bond Street to 4 minutes.

● In July the monthly crime rate for Clerkenwell was 16-19 crimes per 1,000 residents, higher than the neighbouring King’s Cross ward, but much lower than 29.1 rate in Holborn (content.metpolice.uk)

Friday, 22 July 2016

20 Farringdon road gets a face lift

Having recently acquired the leasehold, Derwent London are providing a much needed face lift to 20 Farringdon road with an ingenious colour scheme and design pattern.  The new owners' track record at delivering best in class redevelopments and refurbishments of office space will attract high quality tenants in a continuing trend for the area as rents in proximity to Farringdon's Crossrail station due for 2018 continue to sky rocket.

New look for 20 Farringdon road

Entrance at the corner of Cowcross Street

Holding a prominent position in the bustling heart of Farringdon, situated adjacent to the Farringdon Crossrail site and minutes away from Farringdon rail and tube station. The area is set to become a hub for cross London travel with 20 Farringdon Road at the centre.

New entrance along Farringdon road

A transformed exterior with two new entrances. A contemporary finish, making the most out of such a prominent position with a bold, modern façade. Final building will feature exterior signage to help identify both entrances. Two roof terraces (one public one private) have been created to make the most of the buildings height and position, with views of St Paul’s and beyond.

The communal roof terrace
Derwent London have a website detailing the refurbishment at 20 Farringdon road.