Duke of York Square, by Paul Davis and Partners, with landscape architect Elizabeth Banks Associates, has been described by Richard Rogers as 'the first successful square in London designed specifically for public use'
When the word 'Barcelona' entered the crumpled linen language of the Urban Task Force, many people had images of the Cerda grid being applied to Thames Gateway.
But it was not only that city's urban structure that had caught the imagination of architects, urban and landscape designers. It was the mayor of Barcelona's legacy of 100 new urban spaces. The call has been taken up here. Ken Livingstone has recently published a list of 100 locations where regeneration could deliver not only new mixed-use development but also new urban spaces. Places such as Lewisham town centre are being identified as appropriate locations. So it is good to see how an enlightened loose partnership of landowner, developer and key stakeholders, such as the local authority and English Heritage, have created a new urban space off the King's Road in the heart of London that will be an exemplar for the renaissance of urban space.
This is an area we have all passed before.
Yet hidden behind the discreet boundary of the Ministry of Defence's Duke of York's Headquarters for the Territorial Army lay the exciting prospect of not only creating a new square but also of opening up the area for use by the public for the first time in 200 years. This new square, together with the associated new and refurbished buildings, takes its place alongside nearby Sloane Square as a destination in its own right.
After a few years of neglect, this rather tawdry area of King's Road is undergoing a genteel £200 million renaissance of its own.
John McAslan's refurbishment of the Peter Jones store, the improvement of the Royal Court Theatre and the new recital space for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, are all underpinned by the arrival of this new space - the first new public square in London's West End for more than a century.
The square is part of the Cadogan Estate's £120 million redevelopment of 2.5ha of redundant Ministry of Defence land. The objective has been to provide a careful mix of retail, residential and commercial accommodation that reflects both the area's role and its history. The site houses the original listed Grade II* Royal Military Asylum, dating from 1801, an imposing and austere Palladian building with a central portico overlooking a running track that was laid out during the Second World War, where Chris Chataway and Roger Bannister trained for the first sub-four minute mile. The architect of this complex, John Saunders, was also responsible for other listed buildings in the complex, which include the Chapel, dated 1824, and the Cavalry House. The site became available following a strategic review by the MoD. The Cadogan Estate was the preferred purchaser because of its long-term residential and commercial interests in the area.
The first phase is now complete. Subsequent phases include a school, medical facility, more housing and offices, and addressing the need to preserve and open up the view over the running track. These phases are due for completion by 2006.
Paul Davis and Partners has been responsible for the masterplanning, design and implementation of the project. Its approach has been to work with the historic grain but not be overawed, to introduce new forms of architecture and materials, and to ensure the vitality of the area through activity, public art and lighting. The result is a carefully thoughtout project carried out by a multi-disciplinary team that included Elizabeth Banks Associates, responsible for the landscape design, and JMP Consultants for transport access.
Urban design has been the progenitor of this project. The architect studied a range of squares in London and abroad, exploring the urban grain through figure-ground studies, while addressing issues of access and movement, views and vistas, and 'active frontages' (in other words, peopled frontages such as shops and cafes). Rigorous analysis of the existing buildings, their rhythms and proportions, enabled the designers to respond to the historic references in the design of the new buildings while leaving the listed structure to dominate the area. This is politeness at its best.
Carving out a new public square in central London takes financial nerve. Any space that is viable has to be safe, active and properly managed if it is to boost values. Here, design of public space has deliberately worked toward these.
'Pulling people off the linear drag of the King's Road has been our biggest challenge, ' says project architect Andy Feculak. 'Through the Cadogan Estate, which owned some of the surrounding site, we were able to create new routes that linked Sloane Square with the new space. The routes are made up of a series of small interlinked spaces, which are comfortable, well lit and interesting, and lead to the main square. This provides a new space in London to meet people, shop and dine.'
The centrepiece of the project is a transparent temple to the cappuccino. While missing the exuberance of CZWG's cave in Brindleyplace, Birmingham, the simple and rational rhythms of steel and glazing hovering over York Stone paving - ideal for spill-out activities - provide an agreeable reserve that reflects the older rhythms of the surrounding buildings. The cafe acts as the link between the more public space along King's Road and the rest of the more private spaces.
The link to Sloane Square is discreet and hosts a series of plasma screens that create a transition space between the noise of King's Road and the pedestrian environment of the first of the new spaces. The route is designed to make the most of the views to the new buildings and previous vistas that have been rediscovered. A market square is dominated by its glazed 'market hall'. A new mixed-use block accommodates 30 affordable houses.
The geometry and rhythm of five-metre bays not only reflects the historic grid but works in favour of small traders, allowing for small retail units. York Stone paving, with fountains, sets the stage for the public realm, while floor lighting, under-street heating and computer-controlled bollards ensure service-management and safety.
The main space is bounded by a new commercial building, which replaces an earlier workshop. Its bold character provides the backdrop to the new square. The dramatic canopy, while echoing the historic portico, is designed to bring light into the central office atrium. Contemporary detailing, including the granite base and brick elevations, provides the visual continuity.
'Good architecture is not just about designing to meet today's needs, but creating structures that work long-term, ' says Paul Davis. 'If you get the basic principles right, these can last for years and years.' He adds: 'The landscaping provides one of the most significant design contributions, not only to the main square but also to the overall success of the scheme, by blurring the edges between what has traditionally been private and what is now public.'
Elizabeth Banks' design introduces dynamic shards of granite blocks. These not only define service routes but also provide sitting spaces that echo the 'lovers' seats' of the early 19th century. Duke of York Square has a very European quality. The space bustles with activity. Next year, London Fashion Week will use it. It is robustly and simply designed with a fair amount of cool. This British sangfroid provides the stage for shoppers to take a welcome break on the long route to spending money.
The Duke of York project gives Chelsea a new centrepiece that will be an exemplar to designers, developers and local authorities.
Sit here for a short time, have a coffee and watch the world go by. A four-minute smile is worth a lot.
OVERALL SITE AREA 4.5ha
PHASE 1 SITE AREA 1.59ha
TOTAL PROJECT COST £58 million
CONTRACT The Engineering and Construction Contract (NEC)
CLIENT The Cadogan Estate
ARCHITECT AND MASTERPLANNER Paul Davis and Partners: Paul Davis, Philip Vernon, Andy Feculak, Alec Howard, Ian Law, Andy Hanson, Johnny Devas, Nick Reynolds, John Griffiths, Eileen Murphy, James Bell, Marina Rupprechter, Frank Pullen, Richard Jones, Nik Muir, Ken Lynch, Peter Arnaud, Dan Kemp, James Green, Geoff Parker, Craig Mullinor,
DETAIL DESIGN SUPPORT London Bloc Architects (Block B2 and café)
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Elizabeth Banks Associates: Robert Myers, Nicky Clarke
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Adams Kara Taylor
SERVICES ENGINEER WSP Group
QUANTITY SURVEYOR The Trevor Patrick Partnership
TRANSPORT PLANNER AND ENGINEER JMP Consultants
PLANNING SUPERVISOR Design & Construction Safety Ltd
CLIENT'S PROJECT MANAGER JR Knowles
CONTRACTOR Laing O'Rourke
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Substructure, superstructureMitchellsons; structural steel Graham Wood; brickwork Lyons & Anoot; cast stone Histon Concrete; natural stone walling Vetter Stone; curtain walling Red Aluminium; timber windows, louvres, fins Howard Brothers; shopfronts Pollards; specialist glass Astec; water features The Fountain Workshop; hard landscaping Stonewest;
externals and formations Gabriel; soft landscaping Waterers; specialist landscape metalwork Littlehampton Welding; mechanical, public health servicesMaxwell Stewart; electrical services T Clarke
Paul Davis and Partners www. pauldavisandpartners. com
London Bloc Architects www. londonbloc. com
Elizabeth Banks Associates www. eba. co. uk
Adams Kara Taylor www. akt-uk. com
WSP Group www. wspgroup. com
The Trevor Patrick Partnership www. ttpp. co. uk
JMP Consultants www. jmp. co. uk
JR Knowles www. jrknowles. com
Laing O'Rourke www. laingorourke. com