Use of industrial and railway land

Evelyn Wong, Senior Urban Designer at Tibbalds, and Lucy Large, Urban Design Assistant at Tibbalds, visited The Pavillions – a recent, award-winning scheme off the Caledonian Road in Islington. Here, they give their thoughts on the scheme, which may provide lessons for similar sites constrained by railways and conservation requirements

The Pavilions, 351 Caledonian Road

The Pavilions development of 156 apartments on the Caledonian Road in Islington in north London has transformed a former industrial plot and derelict railway embankment which contains valuable natural habitat into an attractive living environment. It has achieved a careful balance between promoting the housing development on a severely constrained site and enhancing the habitat which is designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation.  SINCs are commonly considered extremely restrictive, due to the delicate nature of the wildlife and habitat and the natural and geological value. 

Developers Telford Homes bought the site in 2013 but then faced further extensive challenges; the Channel Tunnel Rail Link lies five metres under the northern part of the site and two additional railway lines bound it. It’s also adjacent to the Barnsbury conservation area. All this affected the site’s potential for development and led to its longstanding neglect.

Keen to overcome the various obstacles, Telford Homes worked with landscape architects Standerwick Land Design and architects Jestico + Whiles on a masterplan which sought to work with those constraints. The main objective was to enhance the SINC whilst integrating a range of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, and maintain service access for the multiple railway lines.

The finished development is a rare oasis in a complex urban environment. It offers a rich pocket of nature combined with diverse architecture and innovation. Gaps and spaces are integrated into the design of the repetitive building forms allowing light, air and greenery to weave into the communal areas between. Careful consideration of the railway lines is evident in the orientation of the buildings and the adept use of tiered landscaping. When standing in the forecourt or enjoying the many amenity spaces, there is a noticeable lack of disturbance from the passing trains.  A peaceful and enjoyable atmosphere has emerged in what could have been a hostile environment.

The seven residential buildings which range from three to six storeys, were built using modern methods of construction with lightweight steel frames. This overcame the complex constraints related to access, whilst contributing to the overall sustainability of the project by reducing embodied carbon and minimising site wastage.

A limited palette of tonal brickwork, fibre cement cladding and distinctive metal-patterned fretwork, inspired by local historic wrought-ironwork make the overall appearance contextually coordinated and harmonious. Though the size and massing of the buildings may be physically large, the thoughtful use of materials, planting and variations in the facades and building forms create an intimate environment.  In a few locations, however, full-height windows on the ground level suffer from a lack of sufficient setbacks or screening. Perhaps too intimate an environment has been created for some. We noted many closed blinds on our visit. Other windows in the development displayed household paraphernalia which possibly indicates a lack of storage in the apartments.

The design clearly had to address the site’s physical constraints but the access from Caledonian Road does lack a welcoming sense of approach. The main entrance is more vehicle-focused than it might be. Pedestrians and wheelchair users navigate an awkward ramp with cramped bends and extensive use of railings. This area lacks the finesse of the rest of the public realm. In time, this space will be softened as the planting becomes more established and screens these unforgiving elements.

There has been extensive care with how nature is included in the scheme. The planting of 2,408 new trees and shrubs, the creation of a nature trail and a bird hide enhances the unique character and environmental designation. An attractive public realm has been created with sympathetic screening and boundary treatments, informal doorstep play areas, and extensive planting, including the use of climbers against external walls

Disappointingly, the southern boundary has been enclosed with elevated, solid, panel fencing. This restricts views from the street below and hinders the general public and other local residents from enjoying the many natural features. Whilst the new trees will grow in time and the nature trail will be used by schools, an opportunity has been missed to integrate and improve the appearance and approach from surrounding streets, such as Pembroke Street and Carnoustie Drive.

However, the overall atmosphere of The Pavilions has been carefully considered. Through detailed masterplanning, a meticulous landscaping strategy and careful choice of materials, the development has achieved intimacy and enclosure. Some aspects don’t fully overcome the site’s constraints, but the development has largely conquered its complexities  and created an attractive environment for its residents, where you can imagine children playing and people meeting each other in the street.

You can find the original article on Placemaking Resource here.

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