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Some thoughts on mixed use and industrial intensification


Some thoughts on mixed use and industrial intensification

The last few years have seen an unprecedented shift of focus towards development of industrial land. Industrial landowners in growth areas, particularly in London and other major cities, are seeing a huge uplift in values. This creates pressure to release space for development, and many have taken the opportunity to proceed with residential proposals as an appropriate reaction to the housing crisis.

The result however is a diminishing supply of industrial space, with many critical businesses pushed towards the periphery of the city. This creates a crisis of two halves, with competing demands for both homes and productive industrial space in our urban areas.

This phenomenon was given focus in December 2017, with the Draft London Plan revealing that industrial land is being released at a faster rate than predicted. The irony is, decades of demand for housing has squeezed other uses to such a degree, that developers are now switching sector, looking to provide industrial and logistics space which proves even more profitable in some boroughs. The insatiable demand for online shopping has compounded this trend, driving a need for storage space close to where people live.

dRMM concept sketch for Wick Lane, showing the integration of industrial workspace with homes
dRMM concept sketch for Wick Lane, showing the integration of industrial workspace with homes

The cycle of development and consumption of land through regeneration and  gentrification, mean areas with a vibrant mixture of uses are often hollowed out, replaced with homogenous places which do little to create a functional mix. To remedy this, we must look to promote more diverse regeneration of our cities, creating mixed-use, sustainable communities. The challenge is one of scale.

A larger development generates bigger opportunity for more meaningful placemaking and integration of many uses in close proximity. Public space can be more easily designed, with pedestrian and vehicular access for residents and workers given proper consideration. However, the fact remains that funders and stakeholders for a given project will be focused on creating profit from a primary use, typically residential or commercial. Few developers understand both properly, and often one activity is compromised at the expense of the other.

The infill project, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to develop in a granular and diverse way, bringing something new which may be missing. However, the introduction of new functions in close proximity to sensitive accommodation types (such as residential, institutions or schools) will often mean opposition. It is not easy to push in space for necessary activities (especially messy ones) where they do not already exist.

On a larger site, uses can be integrated more easily, with public realm dedicated for both pedestrians and vehicles
On a larger site, uses can be integrated more easily, with public realm dedicated for both pedestrians and vehicles

The path of least resistance therefore, is the creation of zones, with vast swathes of residential land abutting industrial estates. The proposed planning reforms will do little to combat this trend, through the creation of distinct growth, renewal and protected areas.

Architects have the opportunity to improve the liveability of cities, by designing new building types which combine functions in close proximity. A new lingo has emerged, ‘co-location’, a word to describe the mixture of uses on a single site, and we are beginning to see these projects emerge. dRMM’s project at Wick Lane, is an early example, with homes combined cohesively with industrial space, offices and retail.

Wick Lane by dRMM
Wick Lane by dRMM
By carrot or by stick, more diverse places are being created. A competitive market means residential developers need to work harder to provide desirable leisure and cultural uses near to their offerings. The planning system nudges this along, with new requirements for ‘no net loss’ of industrial space. The idea of the 15-minute city, championed for Parisian Mayor Anne Hidalgo, promotes the idea of creating self-sufficient, clean and stress-free communities.
Kat Scott
Senior Architectural Assistant

The financial crisis of 2008 highlighted how vulnerable our economy becomes when it is entirely dependent on one sector. Political rhetoric has since been increasingly in support of increases to manufacture and goods export alongside services, and we are now starting to see an increase in employment in industry. Perceived by some statisticians to be a “blip”, but gaining traction is the idea that this is a sign of change.

dRMM believe this moment to be an opportunity to consider how the urban fabric can anticipate and encourage a revolution around what industry means in urban centres. We must utilise our agency to create this change, providing healthier, diverse and sustainable place to live and work. At the dawn of Brexit, we must make a more resilient city, and architects must design it.

Some thoughts on mixed use and industrial intensification

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Some thoughts on mixed use and industrial intensification

Sadie Morgan

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