London’s urban fabric has been consistently shaped by the city’s economic development. Traditional manufacturing once required warehouses, quays, and wharfs; space hungry buildings and districts that have moulded the city throughout its history.
Today, London is increasingly becoming shaped by ways of working rather than the physical outcomes of production, with an emphasis on innovation and collaboration. This involves a merging of uses and facilities that allow ideas to gestate from early conversations to fabrication and delivery. As architects, we must shape these spaces in a way that fosters collaboration in a way that ideas can be shared and developed.
This can happen at a range of scales, from office cafeterias to purpose-built co-working spaces, from hi-tech labs in universities and science parks to innovation districts. Cities such as Barcelona where the 22@ Innovation District has seen the renewal of a former industrial quarter of the city. Here, new office buildings sit next to retrofits that house leading tech companies and universities; coming together to create a dynamic community of thinkers and makers.
Closer to home the redevelopment at Kings Cross in London has seen the re-use of a former granary building to house the world-famous Central St. Martins art college. Creativity, therefore, sits centrally within the wider master plan and provides foundations for an array of knowledge-led organisations that have descended on the revitalised district of the city.
On a smaller scale, companies large and small are realising the importance of well designed, amenity-rich workspace. External terraces, gyms, and yoga rooms all come together to heighten the working experience and increase collaboration. Expect to see more offices blurring the boundaries; becoming part workplace, part retail, part university and part hotel.
Old notions of production have changed. No longer is it a linear, hierarchical process. As the knowledge-led economy gathers pace, the need to provide the right mix of uses and spaces becomes vital. As designers, we must cater for a highly collaborative, dynamic and mobile workforce. This manifests itself in flexible buildings and city districts that cater for organisations large and small.
Many of the ingredients for this urban renewal were already there, although policy and habit have held them back. As Kings Cross and Barcelona have shown, there is now a realistic path to a new urban renaissance that will make cities better places to live, work and produce.