In 1999 Ian Ritchie Architects were invited to participate in an international ideas exhibition organised by the Architecture Foundation with the intention of creating a public debate about the regeneration of our urban centres. The brief called for innovative projects exploring ideas about sustainability and high density habitation at Bishopsgate Goodsyard in Spitalfields – a large brownfield site.
The approach challenges the progressive parcelling up of land and the resultant island developments that have characterised much of London’s development during the latter half of the 20th century. The “island” buildings that have resulted may be fundamentally undermining an integrated social, legal and visual urbanity that has developed over the last few centuries. They reflect larger and larger single ownership and result in larger and larger single mono-cultural uses. They do not naturally incline to creating streets and diversity.
Historically, the party wall reflected smaller land ownership and hence diversity and finer urban grain in use and social structure. The resulting architecture had an underlying expression of verticality in façade and building composition and created a sense of contiguous urbanity. Even large land ownership exploited the party wall to ensure economic flexibility and urbanity as we came to know it. We have thus chosen to investigate re-using the party wall as a contemporary mechanism to encourage a grain of social, economic, architectural and urban diversity that would help make London a more attractive place in which to live in the 21st century.
The 1.9 hectare site is subdivided into 20 individual plot ‘slices’. Slices are determined by the existing arches of the historic goods yard and defined by virtual party walls considered as interfacing surfaces between plots. This allows for an urban distribution of density and the opportunity for a diverse range of (potentially 24 hour) uses according to the time- scale of the development process and the self evident opportunities. Each “slice” is provided with a suggested maximum plot ratio and residential density. A light weight development of up to 8 or 9 stories may be supported by the existing arches or alternatively a separate support structure may be added for higher development. The party wall system is a ready-made mechanism for regulating density and plot ratio. In exchange for high densities there is a financial transfer to attract the desired diversity of uses. A density of 400pph (approx density of Brick Lane) was applied as a starting point for a density investigation of the site; however we anticipate that the average density would be significantly higher. Vertical ‘greeng slices, occurring at north-south links across the site, act as public landscaped areas and connectors between different plot elements.