New London Architecture

Learning from Europe… and beyond

Friday 24 July 2020

David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ

Unlocking Meridian Water

Meridian Water will have some of the flavour of Hammarby, Thamesmead, and Freiburg when it is finally built out by Enfield Council alongside its key partners in the regeneration project. But above all in this truly landscape-led scheme it will take inspiration from what local people want.

Those were some of the key takeaways from Unlocking Meridian Water, a webinar held on Wednesday and featuring a key presentation by Enfield’s Peter George, the Meridian Water Programme director. In terms of the project’s aspiration of having ‘parklife on your doorstep’, said George, Freiburg in Germany was something the authority can learn a lot from. The team delivering the scheme is also diverse, with 50% BAME, and 50% female, and a Swedish company among the masterplanning team. But the key inspiration will come from those who will be the main beneficiaries. ‘This is a major project on a grand scale, but actually it’s very much focused on local people’, he said. 

Presenting the project, George said he wanted ‘the most active and vibrant ground floors of any development in London’, with an extensive use of meanwhile uses to contribute fully to placemaking, and discussions ongoing into bringing film studios to the 85 ha site being led by the council after years of the private sector being put off by fragmented land ownership and a lack of infrastructure. ‘The purpose of meanwhile use’, said George, ‘is to make a serious contribution to placemaking in the area and introduce Meridian Water into the consciousness of Londoners‘.

Claire Bennie of Municipal suggested that the ‘beautiful place’ of Hammarby in Stockholm had similarities in terms of the elements of water and landscape, with Thamesmead offering. And landscape is perhaps the issue they talk about most – even more than the buildings in the offing – during design review meetings Bennie is involved with, as well as being the ‘honest broker between commercial and design tensions’. The landscape architect is ‘front and centre’ on the scheme, she said. ‘It’s not just one of those “landscape-led” schemes; it really is‘.

The session also heard from Al Parra, co-founder of Building Bloqs, which is creating workspace for professional ‘makers’ on a flexible, pay-as-you-go basis, and Vistry Partnerships managing director Matthew Taylor on its provision of 750 homes – a large percentage of them affordable – on the site within five years, along with a ‘flagship skills academy’.

Meridian Water CGI
Unlocking Meridian Water

Global Dialogues

What lessons could London learn from Europe and Asia in its bid to rebuild and reshape itself into a flexible, resilient and sustainable city ‘after’ COVID-19?

This was the broad subject investigated in a webinar as part of NLA’s City Dialogues Programme on Friday, linking up the English capital with correspondents in live video presentations and discussion from Milan, Shenzhen and Shanghai. It ranged from looking at temporary and permanent solutions, to education, public realm and international trade, to 15-minute cities focused on the local versus the notion of large, mixed use high density cities.

Piero Pelizzaro, Chief Resilience Officer and Sharing Cities Lead, City of Milan, began by talking about the Milan 2020 adaptation plan following the city being hard hit by Covid, and the importance of a ‘participatory process on design’. ‘It’s important what you do when an emergency comes but it’s even more important what you have done before the emergency comes’, he said, with the lockdown allowing the city to concentrate on promoting the local shop, local consumption of local food and local production. This is the 15-minute city idea, with Milan also moving from having nine districts before, to 88 now and acting to try and decongest the city centre.

Laura Citron, Chief Executive Officer, London & Partners felt that Coronavirus had highlighted and exacerbated existing inequalities in London but that there will likely be an ongoing change in the behaviour of Londoners as people ‘have learnt new things about the city but also about ourselves’. ‘It is unlikely that the vast majority of office workers will return to working in their offices for the full working day, everyday’, she added.  ‘Some elements of home working are here to stay’. The biggest challenge the city faces, though, is in the medium term to remain ‘an open, international and outward-looking global city’. There will be more of a move toward local facilities, she added during discussion, but one of London’s key advantages was the ‘benefits of scale and agglomeration’. A collection of 15-minute villages doesn’t have the same economic impact, she felt, not to mention some of the equality issues of ‘trapping people’ in their locations and preventing them from commutable opportunities might bring. ‘I absolutely do see benefits to much more local life but I think we mustn’t think that it’s a panacea either.

Night street market in Shanghai
Global Dialogues
Shanghai acted quickly and decisively against COVID so that it almost feels ‘like a drill’, said Rebecca Cheng, Principal, KPF in Shanghai. The city is different without all the international travellers, and visible changes include the way that businesses are now encouraged to occupy public road sidewalks ‘in a controlled manner’. It is also testing DiDi, a Chinese version of driverless Uber, but one of the big changes is in international education, with Shanghai University becoming more attractive to students from abroad.

Finally, for Michael Patte, Director of Design for Asia, McGregor Coxall in Shenzhen, it had been interesting to see how COVID had made the family the centre, rather than perhaps the economy focus of before, but Shenzhen has suffered from some 50% of businesses closing in China. Things like shopping malls are being reconsidered in the light of the pandemic, perhaps into ‘experience centres’. But with CCTV everywhere, perhaps the government will control its citizens even more, he suggested. Masks, sensors, contact tracing and the treatment of COVID, though, are becoming ‘part of our daily life’. The pandemic may, though be able to give a better chance to the suburbs to get more in the way of culture and lifestyle as people look for more space and the city can be ‘rebalanced’, ‘questioning’ the centre. ‘I think it’s a great opportunity’, he said. ‘I’m not sure what the city will be like in 10 years but I’m really excited to witness that’.


David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ


City Dialogues

#NLADialogues

Programme Champion

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