London City Island

Leamouth, London

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London City Island makes the most of its distinctive ‘island’ location where the River Lea bends for the last time just before it joins the River Thames.

Ten residential buildings sit alongside the new HQ for the English National Ballet, offices, retail, and leisure facilities to create a collage of strong forms, amplified by bold brick colours, which have a striking and changing appearance when viewed from different locations across the water.

We started looking at the project during the 2008 recession, and the brief was to rethink the project from first principles. The ambition was always to create a destination, a place with distinctive character, that was full of life and the result was a design that was not only cost-effective to build but one that provided affordable, interesting homes.

Over the last 200 years, the site and the surrounding Wharves have been a focus for making and industry, this has created a distinct language of simple building forms with regularly punctuated facades. It is this industrial aesthetic that has influenced the clear language of the buildings on the Island.

All the 1,706 new homes at London City Island have been delivered to the highest build quality using prefabricated brick and concrete panels that have been developed with the Dutch firm, Byldis. This modern method of construction has allowed each of the strikingly coloured buildings to be assembled from highly crafted and modelled facade units - some weighing as much as 28 tonnes.

The precast elements were made in The Netherlands, then transported to London, and the whole project has been delivered to an extraordinarily high standard and at high speed, with each floor of a building being completed in seven days – half the time of a traditional construction process.

"Making" has been reinstated as part of the development with creative and cultural industries defining the Island. Crucial was the arrival of English National Ballet, who have made London City Island their home. The location has provided them with the opportunity to create an ambitious “Bauhaus for Dance”, bringing them together with a community where they could fulfil their creative vision. The translucent design of ENB has proved a counterpoint to the harder brick buildings around the edges of the Island and created a white, glowing cultural “pearl” in the centre.

With over 10,000 sqm of space for dance and education, English National Ballet is vitally important to London City Island, providing the cultural anchor that is now attracting other progressive cultural organisations such as London Film School, and many smaller arts organisations including Trinity Art Gallery, arebyte Gallery, London Lighthouse Gallery & Studio and The Woods’ podcast and music recording studio. Island life is further enhanced by a range of residential amenities, including The Grocer restaurant and cafe, Arts Club and gym.

The success of the project is down to several factors including an amazing site, a brave and ambitious client, a diverse design team and brilliant prefabrication and construction, perhaps the most important factor has been the life that has landed on this Island and given it such fierce and proud identity. So much so, that the people who live and work there call themselves “Islanders”.