A good city has industry, but London’s flourishing manufacturers and distributors are being brushed aside—with productive spaces being replaced by large scale residential developments that are unable to welcome a diverse economy. This year Unit 13 explored the intricate industrial landscape of the Old Kent Road area and proposed alternatives to this roughshod gentrification. Our projects pursued social and environmental sustainability, civic sharing and an extroverted economy.
In the first semester, we designed an innovative big scale multi-level and multi-occupant industrial building that can accommodate makers, menders and suppliers, and entwine itself with the existing economic, social and urban fabric. This bold project was based on newly constructed examples of the type in Hamburg and Munich, that students reviewed and redesigned to fit the Old Kent Road. In preparation for this experiment, students engaged in urban research at a range of scales —from the doorway to the district—to develop an understanding of the flows of people, goods, lorries and vans, policy and time, that shape this chunk of London.
In the second semester, we pushed further, developing an urban strategy that spanned scales and challenged the plans that the London Borough of Southwark are trying to impose on the Old Kent Road. Students then tested this strategy through the design of a compact building — proposing an alternative vision of the future that can gain support from the people of the area and maybe win around policy-makers. Through these projects, we celebrated the civic and architectural presence of the economy and highlighted how industry and its architecture can generate everyday sharing, mutual support and collaboration, circularity and visibility.