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Farringdon Futures: concluding our cities theme, we review seven ideas for a neglected part of London, prepared for the London Architecture Biennale.

The theme of this summer's London Architecture Biennale, preceding its international parent in Venice, was 'Change', and as an armature for a smorgasbord of architectural events, a route was chosen stretching from King's Cross station in the north, to Tate Modern in the south (75 000 people attended). The Farringdon Futures project is part of the area through which the route ran.

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The history of London divides itself between East and West around this route, following the now subterranean River Fleet, a murky cloaca beneath the clogged artery of Farringdon Road. But of all locations in central London it is Farringdon Road that has most resisted change and failed to demonstrate appropriate ambition. It is neither a City slicker, nor a Clerkenwell loft-dweller, nor part of the accountancy and legal 'Midtown' culture which has replaced the colourful Fleet Street milieu.

Farringdon Futures, like the charrette at the first Clerkenwell Architecture Biennale in 2004 which reinvented Smithfield meat market, sought a vision for an area of London which is set to become a major rail interchange. The project was devised by Paul Finch, editor of AR, Lee Mallett, urban regeneration consultant, Richard Jones and Andrew Dufty of project manager Jackson Coles, with assistance from Catherine Kidd of Alan Baxter Associates who provided geological and historical information. Farringdon Station on Cowcross Street, just to the north of Smithfield, will become one of London's busiest interchanges when Crossrail is built, connecting with the north-south Thameslink and three tube lines. Much bigger than the Fleet ever was, the existing north-south rail lines cut deep into London's flesh alongside Farringdon Road, scarring the area leaving opposing largely Victorian buildings alienated across a 100 metre void.

Farringdon Futures teamed seven architects with--is this an architectural first?--seven developers, to engage with realities and alert planners from the three London boroughs that they too should be thinking more concertedly about the area where Camden, Islington and the City meet, given its potential.

A planning battle has already commenced over the character of this new centre in the city, framed in terms of City offices versus new, 24 hour, local vibrancy--an argument already articulated over the future of Smithfield and office schemes proposed for it. More discussion now rather than planning inquiry later would probably be a good thing.

Seven sites along Farringdon Road earmarked for probable development were selected for interrogation. Running roughly from south to north, the design teams' ideas are presented on the following pages.

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Site 2 Cowcross Street south side: Klein Dytham, Steve Smith (DEGW) with Jim Green (Baylight Properties)

Tokyo-based Klein Dytham flew in and brought with them Tokyo's 24/7 lifestyle to jump start the new Farringdon with an open-all-hours insertion over the tracks focused on WAWWE--'We Are What We Eat'--a pink pleasure accessory with lots of eats, parked over the tracks and straddling the point at which the three boroughs meet. This allows each to pursue a typical real estate ambition--Camden social housing, Islington high value private housing, and offices for the City, neatly avoiding the narcotic effect of blanket office culture with an injection of anarchic enjoyment. Smithfield is our last memory of the 24-hour city London used to be. This scheme could kick start it back to life.

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Site 1 Holborn Viaduct: Studio Egret West with Roger Zogolovitch (Lake Estates)

One of the few places where London's topography operates at two different surface levels, the conjunction of Holborn Viaduct at the upper level with Farringdon Road passing beneath was exploited to the full. 'A gateway to prevent the sprawl of offices', this first scheme clearly set the parameters of the planning debate, and proposed a rich mix of uses that generate extra value from multi-level intensification of food-orientated retail and a new kind of hotel--a 'living room' for travellers, set in a golden glass box (what else in a city paved with the stuff?). This is a gilded version of Johan-Otto von Spreckelsen's Grande Arche at La Defense, where it is possible to live, eat, work, shop and relax for flexi-bites of time. It proposes a new animal in the commercial property jungle--the 'work hotel'.

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Site 6 Bowling Green Lane car park: M2R Architecture with Nick Johnson, Urban Splash

An antidote to our hermetic keyboard culture, 'X-change' is an intense experience at the very heart of the city, which revisits the original revolutionary nature of Farringdon as the terminus of the original Metropolitan Railway, opened in 1860 as the world's first underground metro line. Being virtual starves the senses. Here is a new kind of city centre building, stretching north from the new Farringdon station with three elements--a circus, a server, a hole. The Circus, located near the main station platforms, offers a market to complement Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. It is a public space through which everyone passes, a magnet for people to meet and trade. This connects with the 'hole', a place for shelter and refuge from the everyday bustle of the Circus, and the 'server at the northernmost end, providing a gateway to the Circus, hosting only visual and aural information, filled with experiences you can find all around the world: restaurants, cafes, bars, and nightclubs. The server temptingly 'whistles' its stories to northern cities, beckoning their citizens to the bright lights of London and beyond.

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Site 4 'London's Favourite Building', Farringdon Road: Swanke Hayden Connell with Richard Powell (First Base)

When John Seifert Architects designed New Court House for the east side of Farringdon Road, little did they know the infamy it would afford them. How much longer need we put up with it? In 1915a German Zeppelin had the right idea and dropped bombs on a nearby building and destroyed it. SHC have invited modern Zeppelins back to the new Farringdon Sky Terminal as an alternative to eco-unfriendly air-travel by jet. The new terminal sits above London's busiest rail terminal, and four spectacular residential towers by developer First Base, forming a key node in the new European network of EcoAir's hugely successful low-altitude panoramic airship business. A fifth tower houses a vertical retail mall. Low on emissions, the new helium airships have made a magnificent comeback. At ground level, the Farringdon Road elevation is opened up at the base of the towers to a public piazza and a series of garden bridges linking across the station. The point about the hugely increased density is that you might need it to make the cost of dealing with the railway tracks acceptable. Farringdon is now the new Heathrow.

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Site 5 Farringdon Lane Cutting: McDowell + Benedetti with Alan Leibowitz (Dorrington Properties)

Farringdon's essential problem is how to bridge over the railway cuttings and stitch back the new space created into the fabric of Clerkenwell to make a new place. Planning restrictions and views of St Paul's, however, limit the opportunity. This scheme spans the railway, creates a moderately-sized new piazza, linking to Clerkenwell Green and reestablishes the presence of the Sessions House at the west end of the Green. A new 24-hour galleria marks the 'lost' route of the River Fleet, above which sits an adaptable building with an unrestricted mix of uses. Higher values to fund the scheme are generated by the 'Red Building' at the northern end of the site, with commercial uses at ground and offices or residential above. Intended as a new marker for Farringdon, the proposal includes an open user clause on the market buildings, signalling a more sophisticated recognition of the flexibility needed to make a modern city vibrant and sustainable--without planning interference.

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Site 3 Turnmill Street cutting: Adams Kara Taylor with David Rosen (Pilcher Hershman)

The rail cutting that runs north from Farringdon station offers such an enormous potential to link the east and west back together that some sort of tool is needed to explore likely pedestrian movements between the two reunited parts of the city. Only when analysis has been done might it be possible to see where the optimum location for uses might be. This animated presentation by engineers AKT demonstrated just how much more intense Farringdon might become and how digital structures might be used to discover likely desire lines and how these might determine optimised linkages over the cutting. A powerful, adaptable tool for determining the detailed shape and use of new development, and a technique whose artificiality points up the desirable flexibility of the future city

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Site 7 'The Grauniad': Allford Hall Monaghan Morris with Helen Gordon (Legal & General)

Soon to be redeveloped, The Guardian (fondly dubbed 'The Grauniad' in journalistic tradition) headquarters on the west side of Farringdon Road is the last bastion of Fleet Street. This 'city sandwich' project with apposite journalistic ambition blows apart conventional commercial rationality and seeks to supplant the familiar mono-functionalism of large office buildings with an infestation of different uses and people-attracting devices. Like a Rubik's Cube, the scheme proposes minimised units of accommodation for whatever you want to do, in order to maximise values (a principle well established in the residential and small workspace market) and takes it to an extreme, with flexible space sold or rented on a cubic basis rather than the old square footage. Structurally, the building is extensively violated to open it up to new elements. Apparently Legal & General, one of the UK's largest institutional investors, were shocked to find themselves convinced by their own appraisals. Watch this space!

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05.03 How big?--250sqft or 2,250cub.ft using Rosen's ratio. The module is [pounds sterling]7.77 per cub.ft (that's [pounds sterling]70 pr sqft in old money).

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:place
Author:Mallett, Lee
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Words:1645
Previous Article:Cities, architecture and society.
Next Article:100% Design.
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