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Are architects and developers ready to embrace London’s light industries?

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Jon Astbury reports from a Barbican event looking at the exclusion of ‘maker spaces’ from urban residential developments

The future of London’s light industrial workspaces was the focus of a screening of a short film, London Made, at the Barbican yesterday evening. It was followed by a panel discussion between Jules Pipe, London’s deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills; Hawkins\Brown partner Darryl Chen; Eleanor Fawcett, head of design at the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation; Neil Impiazzi, partnership development director at developer SEGRO; and Holly Lewis, co-founder of architecture practice We Made That.

While some recent schemes, such as the Greenwich Design Quarter, are beginning to experiment with greater integration of affordable maker-space into larger developments, what is by no means an old idea remains a stumbling block for many developers and planners.

The short film, produced by We Made That for the 2017 Seoul Architecture Biennale, uses the story of the Barbican’s supply chain for props, sets, costumes and gin as a lens through which to glimpse into the lives of London’s light creative industries, many of which are at risk of being pushed out of their premises so that the land they occupy can be used for higher-return residential development.

In the panel discussion following the film, Pipe outlined how the mayor’s new draft London Plan is aiming for no net loss of industrial space in the capital. Last year, more than double the target for industrial land in the plan was lost to residential development.

What London must not become, said Pipe, is ‘a series of dormitories connected by expensive railways.’ He said the new plan would welcome ground-floor uses in developments that were ‘not just a small supermarket’, with a supplementary planning guide to be published to help ensure a more diverse range of ground-floor uses could be worked into developments efficiently.

What London must not become is a series of dormitories connected by expensive railways

Impiazzi and Lewis said use class designations – the guidance to planners on what types of buildings should be allowed close to residential spaces – were due for an overhaul. Impiazzi said there was ‘no sophisticated way of measuring occupiers’, while Lewis said the designations ‘could be more scientific’ in their classification of forms of production and the levels of disruption they might give rise to, especially relating to areas such as food production.

Fawcett noted that the provision of new industrial spaces was ‘still quite rare’, and that the key was to ‘understand how new workspace can be accommodated’. She also pointed out that incentivising change in favour of greater degrees of mixed use development was difficult, when single-use developments such as the Park Royal Industrial Area were already so successful.

Chen spoke of what he called ‘London’s paradox’ – ‘it has a huge amount of industry, but structural inefficiency at every level’. He cited the LCC’s post-war ‘flatted factories’ as examples of past successful approaches to mixed use, and how now the issue was about finding the right building types to accommodate this.

Lewis echoed this sentiment, saying: ‘London is already a mixed city, and the idea that we would continue to do that isn’t that revolutionary.’ She continued: ‘It’s not the economics that aren’t working, but the incentivisation.’

 As Lewis says, London is only having the ‘beginning discussion’ of persuading people of the importance of industrial space.

About London Made

Commissioned for the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, London Made by We Made That explores the ‘back of house’ supply chains of one of London’s most distinctive cultural venues: the Barbican. Set makers, food and drink manufacturers, lighting specialists and logistics companies are just a sample of the activity that makes London thrive. The film is a partnership between the Mayor of London, the British Council, New London Architecture and SEGRO. 

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