by Suzanne Miao on Mar 17, 2011 in Architecture
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A massive regeneration plan for King’s Cross gets going

The redevelopment of King’s Cross by UK developer Argent will provide more than 743,200 sq-m of mixed-use space, including some 2,000 homes and serviced apartments, in the centre of London. The masterplan for King’s Cross has been jointly delivered by architects Allies and Morrison and Porphyrios Associates, both of whom have also designed individual buildings. Here, Roger Madelin, joint chief executive of Argent, tells more about the project.

The scale of the regeneration area is massive. How long was it in the planning prior to commencement of building and construction work?
The King’s Cross site has been earmarked for major development for over 30 years. Certainty over the delivery of High Speed 1 new train service and the support from the local authority gave the landowners, LCR and DHL, confidence in 2000 to look for a development partner. In December 2006, the King’s Cross Central Development proposal was granted planning permission.

Given the sheer size of the area the plan covers and the extensive planning and building timeline, how hard was it to set everything in-stone, as it were, given ever-changing consumer and infrastructure needs and demands?
The biggest challenge was achieving building consensus over the masterplan and ensuring that it had the flexibility to cope with changes over time. Due to the immense scale of the project, we had to create a unified vision of the area with brand new streets and squares in Central London; something that does not happen very often here.However, everyone involved in the project shares the vision; we are working in partnership with many architects, masterplanners and the local authority, under the leadership of Argent, to establish and deliver a world-class scheme.

With 10 new parks and squares, 20 new streets and three new bridges in the works, how do these mesh or blend in with existing infrastructure and buildings?
The repair and conversion of the site’s many historic industrial buildings and structures is at the heart of the development. Some 20 historic structures, including the Grade II Listed Great Northern Hotel, the Granary Complex, the Gasholders and the German Gymnasium are being refurbished as part of the regeneration programme and will find new life in other uses.
Conversion of the imposing Granary buildings into the new home of Central Saint Martins, part of University of the Arts London, designed by Stanton Williams Architects, will be complete soon and open its doors to 4,500 students in September. The Gasholders – a major landmark for generations of Londoners – will also be restored; one as an urban park and open-air performance venue, the others as the iron frames containing remarkable new circular residential buildings.
Regenerating these historic structures will connect the changing face of the wider King’s Cross area to its heritage and demonstrates best practice for transforming important historic areas.

In terms of design, was there any aim to achieve aesthetic consistency, or will new buildings represent a variety of styles?
Our aim was to create a robust urban framework with a heritage-led design where 19th century industrial buildings are embedded in the new urban proposals. This masterplan accommodates a range of residential, commercial, retail and community uses in a strategy of medium-rise, high-density development.
Within this framework, a range of the finest architects working today have created inspired designs which reflect both the character of the site and the aspirations of the future occupants as well as best practice in sustainability. Each building will have its own character, reflecting the variety of architects working on the project, but they will all be thoughtfully planned, intelligently designed and benefit from the development’s managed public realm and fantastic open space.

How important was it (or not) to consider and blend in with the styles of existing architecture in the area?
Part of this 67-acre brownfield site is a conservation area with some 20 historic buildings and structures, as well as St Pancras and King’s Cross stations, two of the greatest monuments to the Victorian age of railway building. We have had to work within the restrictions of this historic legacy but were determined to use the world’s finest design talent to ensure that the reuse of historic buildings and the new structures on the site created a vibrant and enticing new centre for London.

What proportion or percentage of existing structures and roads have had to be demolished to make way for the new?
We have had to remove one road, realign two others and are substantially improving a third with new junctions, paving and lighting. All the other roads and streets within the scheme — about 20 — are brand new. Only three structures are being removed as part of the masterplan which overall keeps, refurbishes and reuses some 20 historic buildings and structures.

What are some of the challenges of re-purposing old buildings for 21st century use?
One of the biggest challenges is financial – it’s far more cost-effective to tear down an old building and build something new than to regenerate an historic structure. Fortunately, developers are now adding community character and carbon use into their calculations and the benefits of heritage regeneration are becoming more widely recognised. 
Once the financial issues have been resolved, the practical issues of building conservation and regeneration have to be addressed.  This process starts with understanding how a structure was built, so that its structural stability can be fully assessed and progresses through adding modern utilities without damaging the structure to create a light, comfortable and conveniently modern environment for occupants.

New developments for the London Olympics notwithstanding, is this project an indicator for an overall trend of rejuvenation for London in general?
London is a highly dynamic city with constantly changing districts and boundaries. Redevelopment projects are underway in many different parts of the city, but a project of this scale in central London is exceptionally unusual and there are unlikely to be many more after the completion of King’s Cross.