As we celebrate Leven Road Gasworks’ recent win at the Planning Awards 2020 for Planning Permission of the Year, and the project’s recent shortlisting at this year’s NLA Awards in the Placemaking category, JTP Associate, Alec Borrill, looks back at Poplar’s journey over the last 70 years.
Festival of Britain, South Bank, London, 1951. Dome of Discovery (left), Skylon (centre) and Transport Pavilion (right). Credit: Ben Brooksbank
In the summer of 1951, six years after the end of the Second World War, London hosted the Festival of Britain – offering the British public a chance to come together to share in the feeling of success and recovery following the devastation of the war.
Looking to a bright new future whilst showcasing and promoting the vanguard of science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts, the centrepiece of the attraction was a campus arranged along the South Bank, with showstopping (albeit temporary) engineering landmarks of the 300ft tall Skylon and the Dome of Discovery placed alongside the modernist masterpiece of the Royal Festival Hall.
Five miles to the east, the district of Poplar was chosen to host an exhibition focussed on advances in building research, town planning, and architecture – but presented in a radical way – not through a series of temporary structures to be reviewed from afar, but as an exhibit of ‘Live Architecture’ offering visitors the chance to experience and witness an inhabited neighbourhood formed of modern homes, civic buildings, open spaces and streets.
Festival of Britain - an artist's impression. Credit: Leonard Bentley (flickr)
These elements formed the newly designed Lansbury Estate; the planning and construction of which stitched together the physical and social remains of an industrial area and population of London that had suffered from being the target of extensive bombing throughout the war.
The Lansbury Estate’s design philosophy was formed on what we at JTP would agree is aligned with an ethos of ‘good placemaking’. This intends that new developments should comprise of neighbourhoods which integrate with the existing physical and social context, whilst meeting all the requirements of the community with schools, public realm and amenity spaces.
Today, where the celebrated pavilions of the South Bank exhibition are now only memories, the communities re-stitched and reinforced by the Lansbury Estate in east London are alive and well. Almost 70 years on, London continues to flourish and expand. The burgeoning central business district of Canary Wharf and the regeneration catalysed by the London 2012 Olympic Games has shifted the centre of London’s focus continually eastwards, where sustainable brownfield development occupies previously industrial lands with new financial, leisure, and residential offers.
Continuing this east London tradition of reuse, repair and re-stitch is Leven Road Gasworks, a 8.3 hectare brownfield parcel of land located within the Lower Lea Valley Opportunity Area and the Poplar Riverside Housing Zone.
Leven Road Gasworks. Credit JTP
Working together with St William (part of the Berkeley Group), JTP and the design team gained approval in 2019 to transform this derelict brownfield site into a thriving destination and community – once again connecting separated neighbourhoods and creating a relationship between the population of Tower Hamlets to the River Lea with the provision of a one hectare community riverside park. The new neighbourhood will consist of 2,800 new homes in a range of sizes and tenures, and approximately 10,000 sqm of mixed-uses, as well as a new secondary school and sixth form centre on the Leven Road frontage, integrating with existing residents.
Leven Yards, the first phase which has been approved in detail, is planned around a sequence of makerspaces, workshops and affordable workspace, and will connect Leven Road to the riverside park. It will deliver 577 homes, 35% of which will be affordable, and will include a food store, café, gym and a pub. Two distinct character areas of formal gridded streets and informal organic riverside sections are derived from the site’s natural and industrial history. A large network of generous, multi-functional green spaces, in which areas of parkland, amenity, play, civic space and biodiverse habitats will deliver a range of environmental and social benefits. By partnering with the London Wildlife Trust to find ways to enhance biodiversity along this part of the River Lea, the project is expected to deliver a net biodiversity gain of 83% once a network of meadows, grassland and wetland habitats mature.
Leven Road Gasworks. Credit JTP
Together St William and JTP have continued the narrative of ‘Live Architecture’, drawing on JTP’s wealth of successful placemaking together with St William’s ethos of ‘First Life, then Spaces, then Buildings’ to offer this as the next chapter in the rich and ongoing heritage and history of London’s east end.