Barking Central began with ‘A13 Artscape’, an ambitious scheme of public art to improve the environment of this major road. An idea for a central performance space led to a 1999 design competition, initiated by landowner London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, to re-imagine the town centre itself.
The scheme took a decade, with many changes along the way. The architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) were appointed in 2002 to rework the masterplan. The project’s delivery team, and AHMM in particular, has been credited with great tenacity in addressing the challenges – which included financial viability. In the space of two years, the number of flats in Phase 1 rose twice, from 112 to 206, and then – once on site – to 246, with an increased ratio of one-bedroom to two-bedroom homes.
Initial plans included demolishing and relocating the existing 1970s library but this proved too costly. With engineers Buro Happold, AHMM placed a concrete frame, like a large table, over a remodelled and rebranded library. This could then support two six-storey residential blocks, with the roofspace in between to create a shared residential courtyard.
Collaboration was key to the scheme’s character. The design language was developed in consultation with other architects working locally to ensure that all schemes worked well together. muf were chosen as public realm designers because their proposal did not simply respond to the buildings but also offered its own unique character. Local schools, students and other members of the community were involved in developing site-specific features, including quirky street furniture and artwork.
The high-density development required relatively long facades and AHMM has used colour, balconies and patterned brick to relieve the monotony. There was resistance among local politicians to the idea of a tall building in an area with a legacy of unloved tower blocks, and AHMM took a particularly creative approach to detailing the 17-storey Lemonade Building. Colourful window recesses and balconies give it a striking contemporary form which breaks associations with the past. As architect Paul Monaghan says, ‘The challenge was designing a 17-storey tower that didn't look like a 17-storey tower.’
Throughout, the design team worked with a large and complex group of stakeholder organizations, including Barking Library, the University of East London and Barking and Dagenham College, to ensure that the final scheme worked for all its eventual users.