Earls Court Masterplan
The entire area around London's Earls Court Exhibition Centre is to be redeveloped by Capital & Counties Properties, with Farrells as masterplanner. The site is bounded by different aspects of London’s urban and social texture. High-value South Kensington is to the east, gentrified Barons Court and West Kensington to the west. The north boundary is the elevated section of the Cromwell Road, London's primary artery in from the west and Heathrow. To the south is a pair of open tracts - Brompton Cemetery and the exhibition visitors’ car park. This is a backland to the exhibition building which forms part of a ‘Valley of the Giants’ – major industrial, recreational and institutional complexes along Counters Creek – the previously industrialised river. The site behind is owned by TfL with a complicated set of Tube lines and an overland rail plus depots above and below ground. On the west of the site are two social housing estates. There are no through routes, little connection to the surrounding urban fabric and no particular social focus. In recent years, Earl’s Court has been in decline as rival and larger exhibition and music venues have opened up in east London. Capital & Counties decided to buy the exhibition site, join up with the two other major landowners, TfL and LB Hammersmith and Fulham, and jointly develop the 28-hectare site with 8,000 dwellings and three million square feet of commercial, cultural and retail space. An international design competition was held which included Benoy, Allies and Morrison, KPF, Studio Egret West and Make. The brief was to give an idea of how issues such as routes through the site and connections with the surrounding area might be resolved, and provide some sense of the grouping and form of urban blocks, as well as massing and height – but this was not to be worked up as an architectural proposal. In his book Shaping London: The Patterns and Forms that Make the Metropolis (2009) Terry Farrell makes the point that London is a series of villages which gradually joined up during the 19th and 20th centuries. It has been created without a grand overarching, superimposed design hand or ordering geometry. The Masterplan concept is based on the idea of four villages and a high street. It starts at the edges and focuses on four new London villages at important corners of the site named after their locations. Three tube stations and a market provide centres for the villages ranged around the edge of the site. That makes it possible to phase development from the outside in, eliminating the disruption occasioned by installing central services. A big problem with the site is connectivity and the absence of cross roads. So internal traffic and pedestrian routes pick up on streets from outside the site to enable passage across the site from east to west and north to south. A new, double-sided north-south broadway serving as an urban and cultural magnet links a new commercial development to the north alongside the elevated Cromwell Road. A new high street running East / West will be modelled on the very best examples of London’s High Streets. The new street layout is a loose grid with perimeter blocks surrounding green spaces which echo, at a tighter scale, the layout of adjacent Kensington. With a timeframe of up to 15 years there is a need for the proposals to cope organically with changing developments in finance, planning constraints, social change and sustainable technology. The masterplan form will change over time - within a robust strategic framework following a set of agreed and consistent principles. This is intended to be an architecturally diverse quarter of London with the expectation that there will be a number of different architects designing schemes over time. Work won't commence before the end of the Olympic Games in 2012, because the exhibition hall is booked as the official volleyball venue. The process between now and next summer's formal planning submission is one of extensive workshop-based consultation. URBANISM CAPTIONS Benoy had been with the scheme for some time and saw the virtues of zipping together the two London boroughs, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith & Fulham at their junction above the old heavy rail tracks. The broader scheme envisaged three adjacent neighbourhoods set around a new London square edged by cultural centres. Allies & Morrison placed hollow square blocks either side of a long park in the middle of the site, one side of which was the proposed high street. A group of tall buildings are grouped around the existing Empress State Building and three tall blocks freestanding to the north in the park. This big gesture has a resonance with other big London parks. KPF had a sinuous road running north-south through the middle of the site with low blocks grouped around the tall existing Empress State Building with clusters of blocks with a vertical emphasis to the north. An open plaza in the middle of the site surrounds a major civic and cultural building. This was a very well developed proposal with an international flavour. Studio Egret West asked what were the best bits of London and concluded that there was a clear correlation between high-value real estate and the intense distribution of public and semi-private gardens. So this proposal has crescents and squares that echo the street pattern of West Kensington, with taller buildings grouped around an open amphitheatre adjacent to the existing Empress State Building. Make's scheme was based on a series of 'block plots' incorporating a necklace of gardens and squares green space. These run diagonally across the site incorporating a 'hub' of open public space, which is also accessed from the east and the Earls Court Tube station. In its analysis Make showed how the same square footage could be accommodated in relatively closely spaced low blocks as tall buildings necessarily spaced further apart – although the proposal also has quite tall buildings massed in the middle of the site.


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