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Approval for Heatherwick's King’s Cross shopping scheme


Camden Council has given the green light for Heatherwick Studios’ proposals to convert two Grade II-listed coal drop buildings at King’s Cross into shops

Backed by developer Argent as part of the King’s Cross Development Partnership (KCDP), the 10,000m² retail scheme aims to ‘secure the long-term future of the historic [structures] built in the 1850s to receive freight arriving from the north of England’.

Councillors voted in favour of the proposals, hailed as ’London’s most exciting new shopping destination’ by 9 votes to 1.

Although the £100 million Coal Drops Yard project had been recommended for approval by the London Borough’s planning officers, the design had come in for criticism from heritage groups who complained that the proposals would damage the historic structures.

Before last night’s committee meeting (17 December) Alex Bowring, conservation adviser at the Victorian Society, said: ‘[The proposals are] an innovative response to a desire for more space. [However they] pay no respect to the listed status of the Eastern Coal Drops, disfiguring the roofscape to the degree of substantial harm.’

He also said that the planned ’kissing’ roof connecting the two coal drops was ‘unrelated and of little relevance to the structures they cover’.

Bowring added that because surviving examples of coal drops were so rare, ‘conserving the earliest example of this arrangement, as close to its original appearance as is reasonably possible, should be a priority’.

However, Historic England had supported the proposals saying the public benefits outweighed the ‘less than substantial’ harm to the listed buildings and surrounding conservation area.

Responding to the approval, a ’thrilled’ Thomas Heatherwick, founder and principal of Heatherwick Studio said: ’These two historic structures were never originally designed for people to circulate through and by themselves would have never made a successful retail destination if we did nothing more than clean them and fill them with shops; the distance between them being too great to have any social chemistry with each other and only two stories of activity would not create enough busy-ness and vitality.

We chose simply to bend and stitch the two roofs

’So rather than adding an entirely foreign new structure to connect the old buildings, we chose simply to bend and stitch the two roofs together, forming another level of activity underneath, and framing and weather-protecting a dynamic new public space for the city.’

Construction is due to start early next year and complete in autumn 2018.


James Dunnett, architect and member of the Islington Society
’This architecturally illiterate scheme in conflict with the functional Victorian character of the listed Coal Drops has been granted consent on the basis of support from Historic England in face of the opposition of all other relevant amenity and conservation bodies.’

Morwenna Hall, senior projects director at Argent (King’s Cross)
’Coal Drops Yard has been designed to be a shopping experience unlike any other. The design by Heatherwick Studio is a considered response to the important Victorian industrial buildings from the 1850s; in fact, the ability for future visitors to the Coal Drops Yard to appreciate the history and various functions of these buildings has been fundamental to the design process.’

Proposed design for Coal Drops Yard by Heatherwick Studio

Proposed design for Coal Drops Yard by Heatherwick Studio

Source: Forbes Massie


Readers' comments (2)

  • No way to treat some decent buildings - quirky skyscrapers are one thing, and quirky bridges are another - but overbearingly quirky add-ons imposed onto listed buildings?
    This is a win for flavour-of the (more than) month vain and narcissistic design. Poor King's Cross.

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  • Only a few months ago I watched with a great sense of relief the demolition of the crass, hopeless and lumpy commercial extrusions that were littering the forecourt of King's Cross Station. Why would we ever want to build again another bling and extravagant shopping centre in front of some modest and severe historic buildings that are all about the industrial revolution? When will London Planners understand that very often original buildings are best left alone, to speak for themselves, to conjure up the original setting rather than some fake Disney interpretation? When will developers stop wanting to monetize everything in sight, turning our city and our lives into an "experience" at every corner? Is this really the legacy we wish to leave our children, hand-me-down interpretations that have lost all connection with the original? Barbara Weiss

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