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Barking Central, East London

Dominic Church, CABE senior advisor
18 June 2010

Thinking back to my first visit to the town hall in Barking, I remember a stately building marooned on a windswept lake of asphalt. It faced onto a drab 1970s library and the grim backs and service areas of high street shops.

Barking Central

Copyright Tim Soar and Allford Hall Monaghan and Morris.

This article originally appeared in Property Week on 18 June 2010.

Slumped in that setting, as a civic heart it was barely beating. In 2001 it was quite hard to imagine the town centre as a place you would choose to live.

Just nine years later the area, Barking Central, has been radically transformed through an ambitious masterplan by Allford Hall Monaghan and Morris.

It was decided early on in the design process to address the setting of the town hall, and distinctive public spaces were created to unite the heritage of this building with strong new contemporary design. The nicest surprise when I returned was to find that the barren expanse of car parking had vanished beneath the lush planting of the arboretum in the new town square.

The bare brickwork Folly Wall by Muf architecture/art is even more idiosyncratic, and provides a suitably unsentimental nod to Barking past.

More than 500 homes have been built in Barking Central, with generous provision of balconies. The architecture is striking. Although the new buildings vary in form, height and materials, there is a coherent approach to massing, balconies and colour – one of Barking Central’s most distinctive features. The monochrome Axe Street – with 40 apartments – contrasts with the bright colours of its neighbours.

The 17-storey Lemonade Building is designed to respond to the tower of the town hall, and its name recalls Barking’s industrial heritage (the R Whites soft drinks factory once occupied the site).

There are 246 apartments in The Rope Works above the old library, now transformed into the Barking Learning Centre, which flanks the town square. Its features include a popular café, and an elegant modern colonnade links the Learning Centre back to the high street.

The new formal paved town square and arboretum provide a fine setting for a new hotel and retail units, and they are overlooked by most of the 96 apartments in Bath House.

But Barking Central is much more than the sum of its parts. The stylish, convivial public spaces pull it all together and give the strong impression of a place you’d be happy to call home.

This article originally appeared in Property Week on 18 June 2010.