Saturday, 22 October 2011

London's Docklands continued.........

For another example of poor urban design in Docklands/ East London I would take this site from the south side of the Thames, on the Greenwich Peninsula. By the Blackwall Approach Road a large commercial  development has been designed and built in the form of a series of large retail sheds.

The public space in front of it is dismal, simply a large car park.

The space behind is worse, simply an access road. The retail buildings do not have any active frontage on this side. There is no public realm here, simply a pavement which is not enlivened by views into the shops or indeed any access to the shops.

But this is the side which faces onto the Millennium  Village, itself only the first of a whole series of housing developments planned for Greenwich Peninsula. Effectively, these shops, which include a well known Sainsburys designed by Chetwood Associates, are surely destined to be Greenwich Peninsula High Street. But there is no quality of public space linking these sites; the retail developments are orientated the wrong way. In urbanistic terms,  the result is a disjointed mess. 

Here is the view looking from the Millennium  Village back towards the retail development.

A photo from Google should help orientate the reader. The Millennium Village is top-left and the retail development bottom-right.
Why do planning disasters like this happen? It is my belief that poor quality urban design like this happens because of a failure to understand how cities grow. Surely Greenwich Peninsula should have been identified as an important brown-field site. The Jubilee Line was proposed in the early 1990’s with a tube station on the tip of Greenwich Peninsula. Doubtlessly it must have been obvious that this large brown-field site would now be re-developed? I am sure some sort of strategy was drawn up for Greenwich Peninsula.
New development should be  designed with a long-term strategy. The strategy must culminate in buildings accumulating to form a sense of fabric, defining quality public spaces. Perhaps it necessary to from a hierarchy of external spaces; high-quality spaces for pedestrian and secondary spaces for cars and deliveries.

Here I show  a sketch proposal indicating a better approach that could have been taken to the design of these retail units. Some sort of double-fa├žade approach should have been taken, with active frontage both to the car park and also the space facing towards the Millennium Village. The more people-orientated space is actually the more important space.

Strategies are, of course, filled in very slowly. A density diagram alone  is inadequate as a strategy. The failure of the shopping centre to relate to the Millennium Village is a clear example of this. The sort of diagrams that need to be produced must indicate qualities such as active frontage and the relationship of built fabric to public space. Once such a diagram has been drawn up then each building can be filled in. It may be a slow process but ensures that messes like this don’t happen, inevitable when you pursue a planning free-for-all.

( Thanks to Google for aerial photo)

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