Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Smithfield joins the 'culture club'

Fabric, Museum of London and Crossrail spark residential revival on historic City fringes. Smithfield will become one of the best-connected areas in London when Crossrail opens next year, with a third of the population of England suddenly within a 45-minute journey of this historic north-west corner of the City.

Bursting with bars, restaurants and tourists, parts of Smithfield have nevertheless retained a quiet residential feel. However, the “culture club effect” is about to change all that. 

The Museum of London is planning its move from London Wall, half a mile away, into its new home in redeveloped Smithfield Market’s fine Victorian buildings. Tate Modern, in the old Bankside Power Station, is one London pearl around which new residential life grew, while Central Saint Martin’s art and design school saw King’s Cross reborn with new homes and mixed-use developments. The Museum of London plans to do the same with its huge new gallery space in Smithfield, using Stanton Williams, the award-winning architects who carefully curated the design for Central Saint Martins, where they incorporated the Victorian roots of the old granary building and sympathetically built-on a stunning new campus. 

A short walk from the City and Barbican, Smithfield connects the Square Mile to Farringdon, Clerkenwell and beyond. Built on burial grounds and claypits, it is rich in history, with a medieval street plan of courtyards, lanes, alleys and remnants of monasteries. St Bartholomew’s Hospital, founded in 1123, ticks on here, while in the listed meat market buildings, porters in white coats and hats dash along carrying carcasses and look forward to a pint with their breakfast fry-up at local pubs. Smithfield is one of the few places in London where the medieval footprint endures 

Museum of London director Sharon Ament believes the move will transform the area. “We anticipate the change will be as profound or more so than Bankside,” she says. The Victorian General Market buildings in West Smithfield have been the subject of debate and many aborted redevelopment schemes for years. “The buildings need to be inhabited and brought back to life again and given a profoundly new purpose, which we will bring to it,” says Ament.

The museum, which opened in 1976 and receives about 1.25 million visitors a year, documents the history of London from prehistoric to present day. With the move, it aims to become one of the capital’s top five most-visited museums. The scheme will open up the historic building at West Smithfield, placing galleries both temporary and permanent  beneath the 50ft-wide Smithfield dome, and is intended to provide space for other similar institutions, along with a rooftop restaurant, café and terrace. 

The project is already attracting residential schemes. Ament says the area will be more “liveable”. There is talk of the ripple effect reaching Hatton Garden jewellery quarter and even as far as City Road. The recent reopening of Fabric nightclub close to the market is already adding to the buzz. 

A new neighbourhood

Less than a minute’s walk from the market, Barts Square is a major 3.2-acre residential and offices project by developer Helical. This new EC1 neighbourhood of one-, two- and three-bedroom loft-style apartments and penthouses is in a wide mix of buildings that respect the area’s medieval footprint.

The first phase is already 75 per cent sold, with buyers drawn to the district’s connectivity, cafés and restaurants, and the cultural hub of the Barbican. “The Museum of London is huge good news for us, a big contribution to the regeneration of the area,” says Helical development executive Nikki Dibley.

Helical was attracted to Smithfield and its historic architecture while it was  refurbishing 200 Aldersgate as offices, and looked at the site nearby when it came up for sale. Barts Square will provide 236 homes in 13 buildings which are all of a different design. The aim is to preserve the site’s intimate nature. Due to the scheme being conservation-led and low rise, says Dibley, Helical is going for a variety of unit types rather than a tower scheme with identical units “stacked” up the building. 

Barts Square has been a big hit among British buyers, and it is believed the appeal for them may lie in its flexible designs that accommodate families and couples, rather than overseas buyers investing in crash pads.  Prices at Barts Square start from £790,000. 

One building references traditional London mews houses, while another,  designed by Piercy&Company and facing the cloister of Grade I-listed St Bartholomew-the-Great Church, features  white glazed ceramic tiles cast with a bas-relief lace pattern, in a nod to the lacemaking that used to go on in the church. 

The scheme’s facilities include a screening room, residents’ lounge overlooking a communal garden, private dining/meeting room and basement car parking, as well as on-site retail and restaurants. The first apartments will be finished  in phased completions this summer. Dibley says: “If someone had come in and said that they wanted a two-bedroom home on day one, they would have had a choice of 20 different apartment types. That’s what makes it special.”

Arty Barbican homes

At Blake Tower on the Barbican Estate, Redrow London has created 74 “art-inspired” homes in a former YMCA hostel, with interiors by Conran and Partners. The scheme houses a collection of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and studios in a 17-storey building, and is a walk away from the theatres, cinemas and bars on the estate. 

City worker Dr Clive Rankin, a long-time admirer of the Barbican Estate, bought an apartment in Blake Tower off-plan, and will move in towards summer. “The area is really vibrant, with great restaurants from revered chefs and there is always something happening, be it an exhibition or a play in the surrounding streets,” he says. He decided to buy after being impressed by the high spec of the show apartment. “Having a 24-hour concierge and being so conveniently located, with great entertainment options, meant Blake Tower was ideal for me,” he says.  Prices at Blake Tower start from £695,000.

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