Great placemaking is about understanding and defining what makes a place unique, developing a promise and authentic vision, then applying that through the physical environment, the branding and the marketing. Curation is key to bringing the right mix of retailers, businesses, cultural events and public art into an area.
King’s Cross is a great example of what can be achieved in transforming and rejuvenating a neglected area. Once an important Victorian industrial heartland, it had, by the 1970’s, become a post-industrial wasteland with a notoriously poor reputation. Lack of investment in the infrastructure, in business, retail and residential properties had created the perfect breeding ground for antisocial behaviour.
In 2001, Argent was selected to develop the site. Their clear vision focused on regenerating the area and creating a new destination in London that had culture and the arts at it’s heart. Guided by a set of principles around valuing the existing architecture, creating new public spaces and curation of tenants, the turnaround has been remarkable. Attracting the University of the Arts (Central Saint Martins) to the Granary complex in 2011 was key to helping define the character of the area. Creative places are vibrant and interesting and naturally draw others. This strategy has paid off with Google set to locate their new European Headquarters at King’s Cross from 2016.
The branding that Playgroup developed for King’s Cross Estate Management played a key role in setting the tone and personality of King’s Cross. From day one the vision was to deliver an exciting, urban environment with a friendly welcome to everyone that visited.
It was important that staff were approachable and attentive and that they themselves felt part of the ongoing King’s Cross story. Bold and visible, the Estate Management branding helped to both define the physical area and signal the change taking place across the estate. Subsequently we have worked on branding different aspects of the King’s Cross development.
The Western Transit Shed in Stable Street is a building with a difference, where heritage and contemporary design combine to provide efficient workspaces and retail units with an inspirational sense of identity. Restoration of the Western Transit Shed was recently completed, and the building has quickly become home to tech businesses, restaurants and shops as well as the King’s Cross Visitor Centre and KX Recruit (a dedicated recruitment service for businesses in the area).
An original Victorian railway goods facility, the building combines striking double-height Victorian brick arches on the ground floor with capacious open plan workspaces on the first. The building needed a name and visual identity that fused that rich industrial heritage, with a cool, contemporary feel, extending beyond the logo to iconography, signage and tenant communications.
The look and feel combines a graphic approach inspired by the industrial architecture and a colour palette that is sympathetic to the physical environment. Playful brick shapes are used for wayfinding, a contemporary twist that links public and private areas.
The ongoing regeneration and transformation of the King’s Cross area is nothing short of incredible. It is a vibrant new city quarter with shopping, galleries, cultural venues, bars, restaurants, homes and schools, all set within 26 acres of parks, squares and open spaces.
We also worked with King’s Cross’ neighbour St. Pancras Station on a number of brand campaigns. Another great success story, the station has defined its self as a new London destination in two key ways: Architecturally the restoration and conservation programme has been a huge success. By the late 90’s the station was in a terrible state. Neighbouring the run down Kings Cross area, the roof had holes, and the brickwork was think with soot – even though a steam train hadn’t been run out of the station for over thirty years. In short it was in desperate need of investment.
Eurostar provided the catalyst for the transformation. Scott’s design for the station referenced the architectural traditions of medieval Europe, a railway age cathedral with spires, arches, borrowed from Amiens, Verona and Venice. The crowning glory is the roof of the Barlow shed named after it’s engineer William Henry Barlow – a single span iron and glass marvel – the largest in Europe.
The bold restoration programme involved not just a sympathetic revival of Scott’s masterpiece, but the uncovering of the previously unseen undercroft – the old storage basement – with over 800 iron Victorian pillars, to create a modern retail arcade. The station today is a truly unique and beautiful part of London.
The second element in the success of the station is the curation of the retail. High Speed 1 and Network Rail have a carefully selected a range of premium retail brands and much like Kings Cross established its creative credentials by enticing Central Saint Martin’s early in the development, St. Pancras singled their intent by creating Europe’s longest champagne bar. Retail brands at the station now include: Fortnum & Mason, John Lewis, Cath Kidson, L’Occitan, Jo Malone, The White Company, Joules, Carlucci’s and Finburger Co.
Yes there is branding and marketing, but more than anything it is the architecture and the curation of the retail space, built on a clearly defined vision, that defines St. Pancras.
Another area of London that has been successfully transformed is Old Spitalfields Market. There has been a market on the site since 1638, when the area was a rural site at the edge of the city. By the 1820’s the market had fallen into decline as the area’s popularity waned, housing costs fell and immigrants moved in bringing the historical diversity the area is still known for today. In 1991 the fruit and veg market moved to Leyton as the ‘New Spitalfields Market’, leaving behind what is now called the ‘Old Spitalfields Market’.
The regeneration was completed in 2008 by the developer’s Ballymoore who created a strategy for the Market redefining it as a “cultural market”. A new visual identity was developed including a bespoke sculptural gateway to the market and wayfinding. As with Kings Cross and St. Pancras, curation was important. A cultural partnership with Kinetica Museum was developed and today the market has over 100 stalls, offering Londoner’s a unique mix of carefully defined shopping: Thursday is antiques, Friday fashion and art with the first Friday of each month hosts London’s biggest vinyl record market.
For residential developments heritage and branding can help engender a sense of permanence and can give a development a sense of continuity. For example, naming can have a vital role to play in creating a sense of place, evoking a lifestyle and ultimately defining a destination.
At Playgroup we have undertaken a number of name generation exercises, as part of wider branding and placemaking projects. For example Countryside Properties engaged Playgroup to create the name and branding for a site near Trumpington, Cambridge. Clay Farm was rich with historical and agricultural provenance. It was where the Maris Piper potato was first cultivated, had a significant ancient waterway flowing through it and was the setting for one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Whilst researching the site, a visit to the landowner uncovered an 1804 map of the area, upon which we discovered the long forgotten name of Great Kneighton. Resurrecting the name and bringing it to a new generation seemed perfectly appropriate.
Countryside Properties’ vision was to create a carefully planned, sensitive new urban extension to the village of Trumpington to the south of Cambridge, providing much needed family housing and community facilities. The scheme includes a huge amount of green space, providing an impressive green corridor between the countryside and the city.
The common thread with all these placemaking projects is that they have each developed a strong vision to create a defined brand promise, appealing to a variety of audiences, (including shoppers, visitors, residents, developers and investors) which is then expressed throughout the whole lifecycle of the development.