New London Architecture

Hybrid Design Journey

Friday 05 March 2021

Tom Alexander

Director
Aukett Swanke

“Could you have a think about mixing industrial and residential?”, we were asked by a contact of ours pitching to an industrial giant. As an R+D driven and exploratory studio with experience in both sectors, we were immediately curious and naturally challenged by the concept, so we put our minds to the question and started to sketch out the issues to be addressed. People in and around such a blend, environment, noise, pollution, access, public realm, cost and perception emerged quickly as issues to address, but so too did the realisation that the idea could create multi-levels of new working and living space, new aerial plots over existing ones, essentially to address the growing needs to reverse the increasing loss of a city’s industrial buildings whilst adding to its provision of places to live. 

This opportunity therefore aligned well with London’s ambitions to retain and enhance its industrial and logistics infrastructure whist providing for an ever-growing need for new homes. The approach seemed to meet well the objectives of both central government organisations and borough councils, whilst also revealing new levels of value to existing urban sites.

The industrial sector has been very buoyant in the UK and internationally for a number of years now, pushed on even more during the pandemic with its online flow of goods and services, specifically in its traditional forms, but also with emerging multi-level industrial buildings, and it has a very keen interest in urban sites to serve a city’s inhabitants quickly. 

Old Kent Road Pocket Hybrid
For the last five years, we have been exploring and developing urban intensification masterplans and mixed-use buildings across London and beyond, starting with existing industrial sites and redesigning them to retain and enhance the same type of employment businesses, but then adding a choice of more industrial, commercial, residential and even purely recreational uses. We approach this without compromise to each space type, and then blend them through careful public realm design, with rigorous infrastructure strategies to keep conflicting elements apart.

Industrial employment spaces and the infrastructure they serve are critical to keeping London working and form part of a complex ecosystem of creativity, production, servicing and recycling. Local hubs of industry in London serve their communities, a key part of the current 15-minute neighbourhood approach, yet they have hungry footprints which is scarce in greater London, so are very much in demand. 

Intensifying the use of an employment site, usually a very large single storey volume, to add new working or living uses alleviates the tussle for one use or another, one market force against another. Instead, they can co-exist. The roof level can become a natural and often vast amenity for residents, ideal for gardens, biodiversity, play space and solar energy collection.

3D View
Most industrial buildings offer blank contributions to their surroundings, yet inside they enable extraordinary and often highly sophisticated activities. High technology labs, theatrical prop stores, furniture manufacture, automated goods selection and packaging are typical, and with a bit of visibility into them they offer a great spectacle and connection with the communities in which they sit. We have been promoting this integration technique with our London industrial and hybrid schemes to enhance and inspire the public realm around the public facades. “Windows on Work” is what LB Southwark calls it, and when blended with other uses above the employment levels it can create a rich and diverse street level space for all community members and visitors.

Industrial buildings are also exceptionally agile and now invariably focused on environmental and wellbeing performance. We sometimes refer to them as biospheres and have shown ways they can be transformed from dark data centres to vibrant multiuse villages.
As our hybrid design experience in London has grown across more than 30 sites, we have also been invited to consider wharf sites along the Thames which expand the whole servicing discussion to include the immense potential of this great water way. We are now looking at out-of-town sites for co-location of industrial and residential, the reinvention of business parks to include industrial uses, labs, workplace, and residential provision; and recently a self-powering hydro port in Wales with vast public recreational water facilities and a landscape driven industrial region.

So, to conclude, when we were asked by the NLA “Would we like to join the champions of this programme?”, it felt like a very natural place to be and look forward to the year ahead of sharing, debating, exploring and challenging the potential for London to really pioneer and lead the future relationship a city has with its industrial and new hybrid places to work and live.



Tom Alexander

Director
Aukett Swanke


Industrial & Logistics

#NLAIndustrial

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