Ever more of our daily lives are moving online, impoverishing the urban experience. This is particularly so with the displacement of the serendipitous, physical engagement with people and products still associated with the now threatened streets and shops of the traditional high street. Although not explicitly expressed as such, this project is a counterproposal to not just preserve, but considerably enhance what the high street contributes to urban life by increasing its diversity and intensity as part of the ‘experience economy’.
As background research it compares examples of high streets that provided community focus and identity to their neighbourhoods. And it contrasts two very different Hackney high streets: the salubrious Church Street and the chaotically congested Kingsland Road – both apt to their communities and contexts. It also looks at the forces now threatening high streets, such as online shopping, as well as the impact of recent policy changes including use classifications and permitted development rights.
Using Church Street and the area around as a demonstration, it proposes considerably intensifying and expanding the retail now found in the fronts of shops lining the pavements. This extends through the shops into what are currently service backlands that will diversify into ‘quarters’ of differing focus, such as arts and crafts, health and wellbeing, gastronomy. Streets, too, will be transformed by narrowing the vehicular portion to create more hospitable pavements; a particularly daring proposal is to set back existing shop fronts to create arcades along Kingsland Road.
If in addition to the convenience and cheapness offered by the online revolution, we also choose to preserve and enhance the conviviality and community life associated with the traditional high street, there is much to be learnt from this proposal.
Design Think Tanks
How can design improve the way we live in cities? Design Think Tanks (DTTs) at the LSA put forward proposals to help meet the targets set out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Design Think Tanks are collaborative projects between students and leading architectural practices at the London School of Architecture. The UN Sustainable Development Goals address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. They are a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
Each year the LSA selects a shortlist of DTT topics to be studied from a long list of suggestions made by the LSA Practice Network. The study topics suggested are ones that require urgent consideration, innovative thinking and design solutions that will generate significant social and environmental progress and beneficial urban change.
Students elect to work on one of the shortlisted study topics in collaborative groups of between six and eight led by senior staff from the sponsoring practice that suggested the DTT study topic. Generally, at least one member of each study group works with the sponsoring practice. LSA Faculty work with the DTT leaders to guide students through the research and design process.
We asked fourth-year students at the London School of Architecture to share their proposals for transforming the lives of Londoners in the borough of Hackney. Within eight design think tanks, students and practices collaborated to reimagine how we occupy our cities, as well as our relationship to work, food and travel.