Over the last few years, placemaking has become a buzz word – no development would be complete without a flourish of ‘placemaking’.
An abstract term encompassing regeneration, culture and wellbeing, there is not yet an official definition.
As Richard Hywel Evans from Studio RHE architects explains, placemaking is ultimately about creating the feeling people experience when they spend time in a place. It’s hard to put your finger on what makes it special as it’s not one element; everything feeds into the sense of place, from the aesthetics and facilities to the materials used – and even, Hywel Evans says, the smell.
The sense of place has been top of the agenda from day one
Understandably the concept can be met with a degree of scepticism as, in some instances, placemaking seems like an afterthought. But, where architects, developers and consultants have worked together to integrate a genuine new identity into the design of a project from the beginning, the results can be staggering.
Republic at East India Dock, which is being developed by Trilogy Property and LaSalle Investment Management, is a prime example of a development where the sense of place has been top of the agenda from day one. Designed by award-winning Studio RHE, Republic will be a new 650,000 sq ft contemporary campus in East London that will provide a rich environment of office, retail and outside space.
Due to complete in phases over the next five years, work is already underway to take the former 1990s business park for disaster recovery users into the new millennium. Focusing on core values of affordability, creativity and connectivity, the vision is to create a highly collaborative workplace that will embrace concepts such as wellbeing and sustainability – all for the right price.
Richard modestly compares the design process as “pruning what’s already there” to bring out the best in the existing location and infrastructure. For example, the existing canals and the lake, which are currently redundant, will be a unique and valuable asset to the development.
Leading from the lake, a landscaped avenue will run through the centre of the campus. The avenue, which will be bordered by independent retailers, will be transformed using open water, planting and trees to create a series of external spaces definedby organic materials, such as timber porticos and colonnades, green roofs and slate waterfalls. Colourful and aromatic planting has been chosen to absorb pollution, and takes inspiration from the area’s history as one of London’s busiest and most influential trading ports for spices as part of the East India Company.
The first phases of the masterplan include the redevelopment of R1 and R2 into 212,000 sq ft and 200,000 sq ft of substantially refurbished space. Due for completion in October 2017, R1 will feature a nine-storey atrium designed as a series of cross laminated glulam timber and glass boxes. As well as allowing a high level of natural light into the building, the atrium taps into the collaborative dynamic of the campus. Large planted window boxes inside the atrium also support the values of sustainability and wellbeing, linking the office space to the landscaping outside.
At Republic, every space and the connections between them have been carefully considered to enrich the experience as much as possible. “We look at the choreography of people’s journey”, says Hywel Evans. For example, there is a blue “gymnastic” staircase that is strategically positioned in the centre of one of the office buildings to encourage people to walk to the third floor. “We wanted to create a sense of energy that percolates through the whole scheme.”
Activity is a defining feature of Republic. The 20,000 sq ft duplex gym is currently under offer and, arguably, the pièce de résistance of the scheme, is the triathlon facility. The canal on the east side of the site will be converted into the UK’s first 100m swimming pool, which will have a dedicated pavilion, so that athletes can transition straight from the water onto static bikes and running machines. And, even if you’re not a triathlete in training, having a heated outdoor pool is no doubt an appealing amenity. Looking beyond the wellbeing aspect, Hywel Evans adds that it will also be “fantastic theatre” to look down on from the offices above.
No exercise in placemaking would be complete without acknowledging the history of a site. Part of the original stone wall around East India Docks runs through the site at Republic and will be the backdrop for a new public spice garden full of fragrant trees and plants and with beautiful engineered timber benches.
Complementing the buzz from the other amenities, the garden will be a place for reflection and respite and this subtle nod to the shipping heritage of the location is another layer that contributes to the sense of place.
Hywel Evans keeps coming back to the energy of the development, as this is essentially what the process of placemaking will achieve. The public realm and the first phase of offices are due to complete in Q4 2017 and have already attracted The Trampery, Deliveroo, Ugly Duck and Quilombero. The ultimate test of successful placemaking is that people enjoy working, socialising and spending time there and I have no doubt that Republic will have that special energy.