The Heart of East Greenwich
Zero carbon district centre for East Greenwich, including council offices, leisure centre and housing. Designed by Make Architects.
12 June 2008
Planning reference: 08/0688/F
We are delighted to have an opportunity to comment on a scheme that has the potential to become an exemplar carbon neutral development. The mix of uses proposed are very welcome, both providing improved community facilities for East Greenwich and a good mix of housing types and tenures for new residents. There is much to admire in the masterplan approach. There are, however, important aspects of the proposals that are not fully resolved and which we would ask the design team to revisit before planning permission is granted. These relate chiefly to Block 1 and the new public square and gateway space to the scheme. Our concerns are outlined below.
In broad terms we are supportive of the approach the design team have taken to the urban design of the project. The distribution of uses across the site, and the general massing and layout of the development seems well considered in relation to the site's context, with the Woolwich Road to the north and existing terraced housing to the south. The combination of on street and basement car parking, supplemented by the provision of a car club is also positive. However, there are three aspects to the urban design proposals pertaining to Block 1 which let down the scheme and require a more a convincing solution.
Firstly, whilst the reliance on a straightforward arrangement of streets has the potential to create a well integrated scheme, we are unconvinced that the approach to Block 1 has been informed by a thorough analysis of uses, entrances and routes through the site. Entrances into and through this urban block should be seen as opportunities to create street activity and ease of access into the site. Wherever the opportunity exists, entrances should be provided to the public building to animate the public realm and encourage permeability through the site.
Secondly, we think that the way in which the desirable carapace arrangement of perimeter blocks along Woolwich Road breaks down at the entrance to the new square is not yet convincing. There seems to be a dilemma in the creation of a prominent end elevation - as a piece of urban design it reads as a landmark, yet it does not contain any of the public functions of the brief that would suggest this emphasis.
The project team should also reconsider how its 'gateway space' responds to the junction between Woolwich Road and Blackwall Lane. We are not convinced that the approach taken looks sufficiently beyond the red line of the site to address the existing context. As proposed, the effectiveness of this space as the primary public gateway into the scheme seems to us to be diminished by the weak physical and visual links it promotes between the site and the major junction of Woolwich Road and Blackwall Lane. Equally, we have doubts about the opening created at the south-east corner of Block 1 which does not appear to create a useful connection across the site.
Lastly, we have strong reservations concerning the viability of the new public square, which will be the most challenging aspect of the public realm design for this scheme. We encourage the design team to give further thought to the nature and purpose of this space and to consider how the buildings framing it will affect its use throughout the day and into the evening. To our mind, a single entrance from the civic building onto this space will not be sufficient to animate it. Furthermore, we think the green mounds, which appear to reduce the amount of useable amenity space, could hinder the day-to-day use and enjoyment of this space if not carefully handled.
Whilst, the combination of civic functions and residential development has the potential to make the Heart of East Greenwich a place with a very distinct character, the more public aspects of this building, including the library, leisure centre, health centre and council offices are not being promoted to their fullest potential. A clear opportunity exists to create a very public face in the design of these elements. If full benefit is to be gained from locating them in a single building then each needs to have sufficient presence onto the public square. It this proves unworkable then the design team should consider revising its approach to the square itself or the pattern of uses in the buildings fronting the Woolwich Road and Market Street.
There are many positive aspects in the design of the residential accommodation for the Heart of East Greenwich. We are delighted to see that the housing mix includes both terraced houses and maisonettes with gardens or roof terraces. These will make a valuable contribution both to the quality of life for residents, and help knit the scheme into its context. We support the way that building form rather than decoration has been used to create interesting blocks, especially in the case of Block 3. We also welcome the frequent entrances and circulation cores in this block. These keep corridor lengths short, allow for some dual aspect flats, and are likely to result in more animation on the street. We note there are a small number of single aspect north facing flats. We think if these cannot be avoided, their internal arrangement should be carefully considered to compensate for their less than ideal orientation.
We think Block 2 to the north east corner of the site on Woolwich Road could work well although we would highlight the high east wall of the energy centre is not particularly neighbourly to those properties backing onto it. Block 4 is an interesting typology and works well in its context. Block 5 also shows promise, although we would question the back-to-back dimensions proposed which appear very tight in relation to the existing and proposed terraces on Calvert Road.
Ultimately the success of this development will be dependent on the detail of the façades and the use of high quality materials and we encourage the local authority to condition these appropriately.
The most exceptional aspect of this scheme is the commitment of First Base to achieving carbon neutral development. We understand that this is part of the development agreement with English Partnerships. We also understand that this agreement requires post occupancy monitoring on an annual basis. This is positive, allowing both for fine tuning of the energy systems, and for lessons to be learnt for the benefit other projects. The local authority should also play their part to ensure the aspiration to achieve carbon neutrality is achieved in practice through the use of planning conditions.