Long and Waterson is nestled within the key intersection of Hackney Road and Old Street in Shoreditch. London overground rail runs along the west side of the site. It is completely urban, and formerly all external spaces were covered in asphalt, yet the client and the URBAN team had a joint vision to create an oasis, a place of tranquillity, in this inner-city location.
As a new calm and green retreat within the edgy and gritty Shoreditch community, the project design reflects local character and an aesthetic of contrasts – where plants cling to brick façades, artists paint bold geometric patterns on blank walls, and people’s dress sense embraces the wonderful and the unconventional. The completed scheme has successfully extended this unique inner-city character and its industrial past with a renewed urban chic.
The design plays on the idea of bold contrasts, juxtaposing hard with soft, dark with light, and natural with industrial. The aesthetics, strongly rooted in the community context, are expressed in the new design with hanging vines clinging to brick façades, a bold geometric paving pattern, colourful planting, and informal spaces for people to just hang out – on the stairs, on sun loungers, even in hanging nests.
Comfortable yet edgy, the design is effortlessly cool, quintessentially urban. The landscape takes shape on four levels; the sunken garden, arrival courtyard, podium deck and upper sundeck.
The existing site comprised two residential buildings and planning permission for an additional tower. A key challenge was the tight spatial layout. URBAN’s strategy was to utilise external and structural areas wherever possible, providing a sanctuary for residents. Not only would the landscape offer a green setting for residents to enjoy, but it would also provide environmental and wellbeing provisions. The design solutions included:
Built over a double stack car park and with only 100 millimetres of build-up, drainage and planting were challenging to integrate into the raised podium and upper sundeck areas. URBAN worked closely with the engineers to provide a solution for the surfacing to allow space for drainage below. A pedestal system was integrated underneath the paving and timber flooring, allowing for rainwater to pass through into an air space below, onto a water-proofed concrete slab.
All levels were designed with a slight gradient provision to allow for water runoff, ensuring all landscaped areas weren’t holding standing water, and the lifespan of the materials elongated.
Two green walls were added to building structures, one within the sunken garden and one rising four-storeys in the entry courtyard. Not only do they soften the aesthetics, but they also assist in enhancing habitats and improving air quality.
Half of all landscaped areas were green roofs. The strategy was to maximise outdoor areas for the enjoyment of the residents, whilst factoring in ways to increase the environment and sustainable qualities of the project. An additional value of green roofs is the increased water capture which decreases stormwater runoff, alleviating the pressure on the existing drainage, an important consideration within city settings.
Another objective was to plant as many trees as possible, a challenge due to the large number of utilities laid throughout the landscape. Despite limited space, URBAN was able to plant 26 trees throughout the various podiums, decks, courtyards and streetscapes.
URBAN’s scope maximised the inclusion of ‘pollinator plants’, as recommended by the Royal Horticultural Society, to aid ecological habitats and attract birds, butterflies, and bees. We included 5 tree and 56 plant species, on a site that was formerly barren. This was supported by the erection of 18 bird and 5 bat boxes.
Hard spaces were minimised, and planting areas maximised to add beauty, improve air quality, improve site permeability and to provide habitats. We also incorporated 137 external cycle stands to encourage cycling to and from the residences.
Within the arrival courtyard, planting and permeability were maximised, utilising minimum width restrictions required for emergency/service vehicle access.
In a city where outdoor space is limited, the vision was to provide residents with an outdoor sanctuary. Informal spaces were positioned throughout the landscape including shaded courtyard spaces for small gatherings, sun loungers and picnic tables. Two sets of timber bleacher stairs were also constructed, not only as functional steps, but as inviting congregational areas. These semi-private spaces encourage a sense of community, while considered planting strategies ensure a sense of privacy for dwellings.
Each area of the landscape, courtyards to podiums, has its own personality, yet all work harmoniously as one design voice. An elegant design solution making the most of the tight urban layout.
Architecture offices involved in the design: Fletcher Priest, ODA, Design Haus Liberty, AECOM
Project location: 7 Long St, London E2 8HN, United Kingdom
Design year: 2014 – 2019
Year Built: 2019