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Published October 2020 by zone6

This is a project documenting an area in North London on the cusp of drastic transformation. As measures to redevelop the surrounding areas into high density living are underway, a lot seems set to change in this area dominated by industrial space since the 19th century.

 

With pressure both to retain industrial floorspace whilst surmounting ever-growing housing targets, these sites are coming under increasing scrutiny from developers, planners, and politicians as areas of development. Here, demolitions, renovations, and building are proposed under a mayor-approved ‘industrial intensification’ policy. As housing is introduced into these same sites, warehouses will be crammed together to make space for residential towers. What this looks like and how it will function remains uncertain.

 

Whilst most development is yet to begin there is a definite sense that that some elements of these historical spaces are on the brink of erasure, be it the spaciousness of the yards, the colourful paintwork, or idiosyncrasy of the buildings. Shining light on these often neglected and overlooked qualities affirms that intrigue can still be found in spaces currently mis-valued in our system of building. 

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In cities like London, as well as using space to produce and make, spaces are now also used as investable assets and as much of it as permitted can be stacked upon one another to squeeze profit from urban land. Smoke chimneys and gasholders now stand oddly overshadowed by high-rise towers as a hugely disproportionate percentage of London is dominated by an extremely profitable, speculative property market. What's more is that planning authorities whose purpose is to manage the delicate ecology of the city have in fact systematically cleared industrial sites for sale to housing developers, fuelling a short-sighted ambition of economic growth with little regard for the critical mix of spaces for living, working and leisure that a functional city and human wellbeing predicates on.

 

Since 2001, industrial land has been negligently released at three times the rate that the Greater London Authority had set as a target. London has lost 1,300 hectares in this time and continuing at this rate would result in a third of all industrial land being lost by 2031. Yet, this is a sector that provides one in ten jobs in London, with logistics, repair, and recycling all vital to the operating of a city. A closer inspection behind the closed facades of London’s industrial estates reveal just how diverse its tenants and activities are - a third of industry remains as manufacturing, but it has evolved over the years to include trades like small-batch production and 3D printing technologies.

 

In the last two years, the Greater London Authority has recognized that London  has lost too much of its industrial land and skewed the balance of the city’s economy and spaces. There is now a scramble to ensure that floorspace is maintained and buildings adapted to accommodate evolving industrial uses, whilst also making space to meet housing demand. 

 

In order to release land for housing, industrial estates will be cleared and rebuilt to rehouse the industry in a significantly smaller footprint of land. Excitingly, this offers new architectural possibilities – there is an opportunity to reconfigure sites to make use of shareable resources and apply new technologies to improve working conditions whilst limiting environmental impact. A new and direct proximity to residential buildings promises that funding must made available for the public face of industry and for the pedestrianising, upkeep, and sociability of these newly renovated spaces. Aspects of this enterprisingly lean and unexpectedly monumental architecture could be humanised and adapted to maximise its usefulness not only economically, but also socially and culturally. We will be living in close quarters with the industry that propels the city, visually and spatially engaging with the processes the constitute our urban lives.

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These photographs show that there is an extensive palette of material, form, and construction techniques that can be drawn from to enrich the potential of these new developments. We see it referred to already in new office or museum buildings with clever roof profiles, exposed structural frames, and open plans, but so rarely in our new industrial buildings.

 

Rather, new industrial buildings are often constructed with off-the-shelf designs, which, despite their similarly shared concern with minimising costs, do not display the same steady robustness and grandeur of their predecessors photographed here. It is an architecture that does not proclaim architectural merit and which is not engaged with the city despite its inextricable link to its working. In recent decades industrial spaces have been fossilized, seemingly without regard for their current or future conditions. It seems particularly vital that we use an opportunity to build upon an already rich legacy of industrial architecture. We must act in a way that shifts focus away from building for profit maximisation and towards a more progressive practice that that creates useful, productive and sociable spaces.

This photographic project does not read this architecture as simple visual cues that can be transplanted cosmetically into new buildings as a tokenistic gesture to the past. It attests to the less salient aspects of industrial architecture, and specifically to what motifs and phrases can be taken from it to make an architecture that is suitably more human in an age of denser urban living.

 

There is a quiet beauty in the steadiness in the scale of these buildings and a light-heartedness in the ad-hoc nature of their construction. - something increasingly rare in today’s meticulously pre-planned built environment of repeatable thin-skinned plastic facades. It is a holistic and expressive architecture – one that makes clear the processes involved in running a building, trade, or city. There is a collectedness to the buildings here, perhaps attributed to the breathing space between them and the generosity of yards throughout sites. The sky seems almost unending – a feeling that might never be experienced again in urban industrial sites, as out the corner of an eye are glimpses of tower blocks increasingly peppering the view.

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