NY-LON Simultaneous Seminars #4: Historic Preservation and City Renewal

Friday 25 October 2013

London and New York are both seeking to delicately balance the forces of preservation and creative change as schemes such as the redevelopment of Smithfield Market and Park Avenue edge closer.

The principle emerged during the latest NY-LON session staged at KPF’s offices in central London and run by the NLA, which focused on historic preservation and city renewal on both sides of the Atlantic.

English Heritage’s national planning and conservation director Chris Smith said that London was a key exponent of constructive conservation, with schemes such as St Pancras and at King’s Cross embodying that spirit. Stanton Williams director Paul Williams said that his practice’s University of the Arts scheme for Central St Martins, for example, showed the importance of being ‘the first person on the block’ in catalysing a wider regeneration project that now also lists Google and the Aga Khan building as future tenants of King’s Cross Central. The scheme – ‘an arena for student life’ was also a ‘hugely ambitious and brave undertaking by the university and staff’, where Stanton Williams left ‘nearly all the architectural scars’ in the building, rather than fall into the common trap of ‘overworking’ heritage fabric. ‘Fundamentally, you have to understand the limitations of an existing building as well as its potential’, said Williams. Andrew Cleary, Director at KPF in New York, said that public uses are important to distinctiveness, with superior design being one of the criteria to get permits, but important buildings such as Grand Central are ‘hidden’ with ‘no mechanism to enhance, celebrate and activate it more.’ Laurie Beckelman, former chair of the NYC Landmarks Preservation, said that historic buildings make a major contribution to the city: ‘preservation is connected to the economic engine of the city’, she said.

At Smithfield, said Smith, the hope was to achieve something of the successful re-use employed at Covent Garden, while the new, ‘not as damaging’ proposed scheme will be tested at public inquiry after EH opposed the initial Smithfield designs. ‘We’re looking to support the mayor and his view of the future embodying the best of control as we embrace the best of creative change’, he said.

David Taylor, New London Quarterly

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