4 December 2016

Architect's vision

On Friday and Saturday, Gnome House hosted an exhibition showing the proposals for the latest segment of the Blackhorse Lane development site, where new flats are replacing the old industrial estate. The exhibition represents two different things. Firstly, the way the Waltham Forest Action Plan has been implemented means that large blocks of densely-packed flats with no amenity space and no car parking is a foregone conclusion. Precedent was established with the first scheme to get off the ground, the student flats which simply fill their plot right up to the edge, as high as they can get away with, which is around eight storeys, a bit less on Blackhorse Lane. The second thing is the way the architects for each plot have tried (or not) to come up with a good design within the limitations imposed by the overall plan.

This section is right in the middle of the site, and will replace the commercial units facing on to the large TfL car park, but not the car park itself. It will be surrounded by tall blocks and, unsurprisingly, this scheme is also an array of tall blocks. The architects in this instance are young and enthusiastic, and I think they would have come up with something more sympathetic to the locality if they had an open brief to design appropriate buildings to fit in with the old terraced houses, the station and the flats across the busy Blackhorse Road junction. As it is, there is a clear expectation that the development has to be tall, economically planned to fit in multiple units of a standardised size and design.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was a nicely-made plywood model showing their work in progress on the design. The model has an interesting, rather charred-looking appearance. That is because laser cutters have become affordable enough for the average architectural practice to afford one, but not perhaps the top of the range that would cut without the burnt appearance. The arrangement of buildings is simple and logical, with a courtyard intended to be open (although it might end up with gates) and public access all round. The care taken with the design is evident in their detailed design drawings. Fancifuly, perhaps with unintended irony, some of the inspiration comes from the vintage buses that were built in the AEC (Associated Equipment Company) factory that once stood there. An interesting feature of the scheme is a long, low block occupying the sliver of land between their plot and the Standard. If all goes according to plan, that will be workshop / studio spaces, that will link up with retail units on the TfL site next across a pedestrian use - a much-needed element of non-residential use. I just hope it isn't value-engineered out of the design. There are also a lot of secure bicycle parking spaces.

It's much better than the appalling commercial blandness of the first phase, the student residences that are being built now. None the less, the overall ambience is going to be a bit like high-rise Hale Village next to Tottenham station, only higher: something entirely separate from the old Walthamstow.

The exhibition boards, but not images of the model, can be downloaded at www.equipmentworks.co.uk