Despite the length of time that has elapsed since the project consumed all of his energies, Bob Allies is still bubbling with enthusiasm about the opportunity presented by Woolwich Arsenal. 'At its height, 80,000 people worked there, ' he enthuses, standing over the scale model of his masterplan, which has just won the backing of CABE ( ajplus 11.11.05).
Allies and Morrison's vision for the 'Warren Site' at the Arsenal in south-east London, which housed weapons from the 16th century until it was decommissioned in the 1990s, was submitted to Greenwich council at the end of September.
Developer Berkeley Group, whose previous masterplan for the site - designed by Broadway Malyan and now facing a public inquiry - hopes that Allies and Morrison's work will be given the green light before any inquiry can come to a head.
The regeneration of Woolwich Arsenal, a site whose redevelopment is hemmed in by its heritage yet liberated by its river views, is one that the local authority is keen to get right.
Allies and Morrison hopes it has addressed the problems raised in Broadway Malyan's designs by approaching the outline plans in a 'fixed yet flexible' manner.
The Royal Arsenal has a long and varied history of occupation. It was founded in part as a store for the support of the Greenwich, Woolwich and Deptford Dockyards. As early as 1565, records show an 'ordnance store' was in existence, which would have supplied guns, cannon balls and gun carriages to the ships that were being constructed in the docks nearby.
Sergison Bates originally looked at the masterplan in 2002, followed by Broadway Malyan. Although Greenwich Borough Council gave Broadway Malyan's plan outline permission in December, CABE mauled the scheme on three successive occasions, describing it as 'depressing' and 'lacking a strategy' (AJ 07.07.05).
Allies and Morrison came to the rescue, being parachuted in by Berkeley, and its attempts have just been greeted with open arms by CABE. The architect's changes included not only a reduction in the number of units on site but a greater deference to existing listed buildings, such as the 19th-century Grade II-listed officer's house. '[Broadway Malyan's masterplan] was a bit caught up with itself, a bit selfobsessed. We wanted to try very hard to reference the existing geometries, ' said Allies.
Or, put more bluntly by project architect John Morgan:
'As opposed to what Broadway Malyan had done, we tried much harder to get more out of the existing buildings. And we spent longer working through the landscaping, and the density overall has gone down.' Allies and Morrison has approached the development differently, especially with regard to 'the teardrop' - a key location at the masterplan's southeast corner.
Here, the architect has increased the relative density of housing - by raising the height of buildings - compared with the rest of the masterplan. It has done this by making conventional courtyard plans high-rise. Where the courtyard height caused the obstruction of views and light, Allies and Morrison has removed blocks from key parts, and built higher elsewhere in the structure to compensate for this.
Allies said: 'Towers are part of the courtyards. CABE has always been nervous about how that will work. One of the principal criticisms of CABE was: 'Can you get the area you want out of it?'' But the fact that issues such as this are not resolved at this stage should not be a problem.
The architect is keen to pin down as much as it can - via CABE-specified design codes - to avoid the scourge of dumbing down that has afflicted similarly high-profile masterplans, such as Ian Ritchie's White City project.
However, there is a fine line between nailing the details and leaving enough room for the architect appointed at the detailed stage to put its own stamp on designs.
'We never use formal geometries, ' affirmed Allies.
'For example, you will never find buildings that have to be symmetrical. It just needs to be rational and logical, the rest can be left for later. It is a balancing act between fixing as many things down as early as possible, and leaving it open so that architects which come to the table at a later date have as much as possible to work with.' If all goes well, Allies and Morrison will have the green light from Greenwich council by the end of the year. The Royal Arsenal is already a home for 1,000 residents, and 5,000-10,000 could be added by this masterplan.
Soon, the hustle and bustle might resemble the location's vibrancy at its prime.