Buzz is gradually building about the new 'East Bank' in Stratford. But what is it, and when will it open?
A decade after London 2012, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (QEOP) continues its transformation from industrial wasteland to sporting megapark, to a collection of neighbourhoods and leisure facilities. One of the biggest developments on the site is the emerging East Bank, a new cultural quarter for London. Here's everything you need to know.
What's in a name?
East Bank. If the name sounds a little boring, try saying it fast. E-spank.
"I'm interested in viewing e-Spank material, please," one might enquire of the estate agents.
Childishness aside, the name is apt in a workaday way. The East Bank is on the east bank of the River Lea, so it's geographically accurate. But it also invites comparisons with the South Bank — one of London's most popular cultural zones, which was itself built on former industrial land.
What's going to be there?
QEOP describes the East Bank as "a powerhouse for innovation, creativity and learning". When marketeers say this kind of thing, the natural reaction is to smirk at the hyperbole. Here, they might just be right. The institutions moving into East Bank really are at the top of their game.
V&A: Despite fielding 145 galleries in its grand South Ken home, the V&A has nowhere near enough space to show off its vast collection. Hence, this new block in the Olympic Park, along with a collection and research centre in nearby Here East. The plans originally called for a major partnership with the Smithsonian Museum, which has now been scrapped, apart from a joint internship scheme.
V&A East is the one building of strong character on the plot. With its unpredictable angles, it could be a beige cousin of the Tate Modern extension, or perhaps the outcome of a Modernist phase in Tatooine architecture.
Sadler's Wells: This ancient dance theatre has made its home in Clerkenwell since the 17th century. Now it's finally time to spread its wings east, with a second venue in the Olympic Park. As well as a 550-seat theatre, the complex will also have "a new centre for choreographic practice and a hip hop academy, both of which will be the first of their kind in the country".
BBC Music studios: The Beeb's heading east, too, with a purpose built recording studio and performance space to replace the historic Maida Vale studios. The site will also be the new home for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC singers. It will be very handily located, should West Ham ever need an orchestrally-led cup final song (Ha!).
UAL's London College of Fashion: The college is currently spread across London in six blocks, but all will be integrated here into a 6,500 student campus, forming the largest complex in East Bank. UAL's plot will also include public spaces and galleries.
UCL East: Two separate plots south of the Aquatics Centre will be a new home for University College London, one of the country's leading universities. The campus will be home to about 4,000 students working towards (mostly) scientific and technological qualifications. The two areas are known as One Pool Street (residential towers with spaces for teaching/learning) and Marshgate (a teaching and research hub, besides other things).
The latter is across the water near the Orbit tower, and so isn't technically on the 'east bank', though it's considered part of the same masterplan.
It's hard to see in the photo, but the facade of Marshgate is textured, somewhat like the Barbican. It helps to make an otherwise imposing building a little more loveable. Let's call it Neo-Olympobrutalism.
Residential quarter: You could join the big-name institutions moving into E-spank, if you're able to snap up one of the 600 new homes going up on the north of the site. This part is the least developed so far, with only groundworks under way.
When's it opening?
Notice boards around the site are still suggesting 2022, though that's not looking very likely. The one exception is the UCL residential blocks at One Pool Street, which are expected to open later this year. The other buildings should give a staggered hello from some time in 2023, with the (non-UCL) residential blocks coming along in a year or two.
East Bank is now in an advanced stage of construction. In our opinion, it's neither striking nor dull, but a fairly unremarkable collection of 21st century architecture. It's what happens inside and around these buildings that really counts.