In Pictures: London's Green Architecture

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 13 months ago
In Pictures: London's Green Architecture
An amphitheatre watches a show played out on a wooden set beneath the night sky
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre's stage is built out of timber from scratch each year, and sits atop a concrete base which was part of the original 20th-century design. Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

London has a global responsibility to lead by example as a sustainable city — so says Harriet Thorpe, author of The Sustainable City, which documents everything from pioneering eco-villages to industrial behemoths repurposed into rooftop gardens parks.

A modernist space with two cockerels strutting their stuff
Surrey Docks Farm brings together gardens, orchards, food production, livestock rearing, a café and a farm shop. The interiors feature a simple material palette of timber window frames and built-in furniture, against exposed trusses and ceiling joist. Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

With an estimated population of 10 million by 2040, London already generates seven million tonnes of waste per year, while 16% of its major roads exceed the legal limit of nitrogen dioxide. So much work is to be done

Narrowboats on a canal with an industrial backdrop
The canal-side façade of Hackney Bridge overlooks a 'mobile' community garden, designed to be completely moveable, and a cycle workshop inside a recycled container.  Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

Some is already happening though; think the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, and cycle-sharing schemes — initiatives  which help to keep London's carbon per capita emissions the lowest in the UK. Another way the capital is facing climate change head-on is through its pioneering use of architecture and design.

Colourful wind turbines on a roof
BedZED is a pioneering eco-village in south London which considers sustainability from all angles. It is built with natural and recycled materials, and also creates its own energy, makes space for greenery and empowers its inhabitants to live a sustainable lifestyle. Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

Sustainable City hones in on some of the most exciting eco-friendly projects to come to London in recent years. There's Beddington's BedZeb — a utopian development of roof gardens, pedestrian bridges and renewable energy — its its colourful wind turbines beckoning us towards a cleaner future.

A toy race track with wooden cars
Smooth-plywood joinery, non-toxic, child-friendly materials such as recycled vinyl flooring, and Cradle-to-Cradle certified products, have been used to create Family Club in London Fields. Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre — which was established in 1932 and is rebuilt annually — is low-carbon timber from stage to box office; the whole setup looks as though it could have been fashioned by enchanted woodland fairy folk (the more mundane truth is that it's the vision of architects Haworth Tompkins).

Another timber beauty is the Belarusian Memorial Chapel, crafted from Canadian cedar shingles and Douglas fir — and apparently the first wooden church to be built in the city since the Great Fire of London.

Inside a small orthodox looking church with a wooden interior
Inside Finchley's 69-square-metre Belarusian Memorial Chapel, which seats 40 people, there are wooden memorials, an iconostasis (a screen with historic icons) and traditional white-red-white Belarusian textiles – a national colour combination currently banned in Belarus. Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

London's beloved Underground system is guilty of producing mountains of heat waste; enter Bunhill 2 Energy Centre, which harnesses these emissions from the Northern line, and uses it to power 1,350 local homes and a leisure centre. Its ox-blood exterior, by the way, is a nod to the tiles of Leslie Green-era Northern line stations.

People sit on a bench in a park surrounded by an old Victorian gasholder
The rooftop garden of Gasholders in King's Cross, designed by landscape architects Dan Pearson Studio, which selected robust and low-maintenance plants such as ornamental grasses creating an informal, natural-feeling garden for residents. Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

In fact, the lion's share of designs here are uniquely beautiful things to behold; take the rooftop garden that follows the contours of an erstwhile Victorian gasholder in King's Cross, or the flamingo-shaped confections of play equipment at Yinka Ilori's Parsloes Park Playground in Becontree.

A deep red, semi transparent industrial looking building
Bunhill 2 Energy Centre turns waste heat from the tube into energy that can be used elsewhere. Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

In this instance, Ilori repurposed concrete manhole rings into vividly painted urban sculptures; elsewhere, such reassignation is done on a vaster level — take the retrofitted Strand Hotel, a clunky old brute given a lease of new life as a modernist eco hotel, with a bright red lift pods that beg to be ridden. Gives credence to the idea that buildings like Bastion House in the City should never be allowed to be pulled down.

A grand wooden dining room, with huge web-like trusses
The structure of Ibstock Place School Refectory near Richmond Park is made up of a diamond-shaped lattice
of engineered timber, which is filled in with slatted oak panels. As well as sequestering carbon,
all of these timber pieces were cut to length at manufacture, reducing pollution and waste. Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

All of the projects in this book, says Harriet Thorpe, are optimistic buildings that reimagine the type of city that London could be.

A vivid playground with bright pink and green slide, and flamingo shaped playthings
Yinka Ilori's Parsloes Park Playground in Becontree encourages local pride and a sense of belonging. An old basketball court was brought to life with a new colour scheme, while new seating and rockers were inspired by the flamingoes that once inhabited an ornamental lake. Image: Taran Wilkhu/Hoxton Mini Press

The Sustainable City by Harriet Thorpe and Taran Wilkhu is published by Hoxton Mini Press, RRP £30

Last Updated 07 September 2022

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