Stratford Waterfront: The East London district is the latest creative hub in the capital
16 Oct 2023
The college building, a constituent part of University of the Arts, London, has just opened its doors to students as the 2012 Games East Bank legacy continues to unfold. London Society trustee Dave Hill was on a tour with society members at the London College of Fashion, led by Alex Wraight, a partner of Allies & Morrison, the architecture firm that designed it.
On the banks of the Waterworks River, the London 2012 Olympic Park legacy continues to unfold. Last month, University College London (UCL) formally opened its second new building within the ambitious East Bank culture and education complex. Now, the new home of the college, part of the University of the Arts, London (UAL) group, is also teeming with students.
Wraight has led the entire Stratford Waterfront section of the East Bank project, which comprises not only the London College of Fashion but also new, east London branches of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Sadler’s Wells theatre, along with the BBC’s successor to its famous but faded music studios in Maida Vale. The four buildings, in their varying states of completion, stand side-by-side directly north of the late Zaha Hadid’s spectacular London Aquatics Centre, recently linked by elegantly-stepped riverbank public realm.
It has been a complex and long-running project. Its origins lie in the aftermath of the great Games themselves. Boris Johnson, when Mayor of London, was a key figure in getting it off the ground in concert with the then Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, other local political leaders and the London Legacy Development Corporation. In 2015, Allies & Morrison won a competition to orchestrate the scheme, then known as Olympicopolis, in partnership with Irish firm O’Donnell & Tuomey.
Changes in circumstances, including a change of Mayor to Sadiq Khan and a recognition that the huge residential tower blocks originally envisaged as standing beside the V&A East Museum would block the protected view of St Paul’s from Richmond, led to a rethink. Covid, Brexit and rising costs have been further drags on progress. The development site, already compact, became more so when four smaller housing blocks were inserted into the plans instead of the two huge ones.
But now, with UCL’s separate works done, East Bank’s finishing line is in sight. The V&A East Museum, designed by O’Donnell & Tuomey, is expected to open in 2025, and, at the other end of the rank of four, their Sadler’s Wells piece will precede it next year. Allies & Morrison’s BBC building, a considerable feat of sound engineering quite apart from anything else, is also scheduled to enter service the year after next. The housing blocks will come later. Meanwhile, the London College of Fashion is leading the way.
The bulkiest of the quartet, its look is inspired by industrial buildings of the 19th Century, giving a foursquare workshop feel. “It is outwardly simple, unpretentious and robust,” says the Allies & Morrison website. Inside, a rather stunning curving staircase (top picture) spirals up from the ground to the fourth floor.
This “orange peel” structure, as Wraight describes it, is self-supporting. Its concrete sides “act as both structural beams and balustrades,” he explains. The interior accommodates the needs of what were the six different constituent parts of the college, previously on separate sites, under one roof. Long, tall windows afford glamorous views across the park and the capital beyond. London, as the saying goes, is definitely still moving east.
Words by Dave Hill, editor of On London