How Greenwich Peninsula Design District hopes to create a home for creatives

The new development promises ‘affordable’ space for 1,800 creatives in a huge new project by the Thames

Indoor-outdoor studio space at the Design District, Greenwich Peninsula

Greenwich Peninsula is a huge new development in London which will comprise 15,000 new homes in seven new neighbourhoods – with a creative community at its core. Speaking at the launch of its Design District, Richard Margree, CEO of Knight Dragon, the developer behind the project, said that it would be “not tokenism on the part of a developer but right at the heart and soul” of the area.

The Design District, seen from North Greenwich tube. ©Knight Dragon

“Creatives are not something to tokenistically bolt on to boost your credibility,” Margree said, noting how many new developments try to co-opt some creative credibility to add much-needed cool to their schemes. “[We said] if we are going to do this, we are going to do it at scale, properly and permanently.”

Due to open in 2020, the Design District, which sits adjacent to Ravensbourne university and the O2, will offer workplaces for 1,800 creatives of all types across 16 buildings, by eight different architects. Rents will start at £10 per square foot, with the average expected to be £25 per square foot. Margree anticipates that the buildings will house a variety of different creative businesses from so-called ‘dirty’ workshop spaces which could be used for making products on the ground floor, to spaces for anything from fintech start-ups to graphic designers and web developers above. Encouraging occupants to move through the buildings and mix with their neighbours will, he hopes, encourage collaboration and a sense of community.

Leases will not be long-term: “You currently won’t be able to lease building here long term,” Margree said. “We very much want to encourage that churn of people moving in and out.” But he hopes that, as businesses grow, they will stay in the district and find a new home.

“Creatives have been chased around London,” Margree said, noting the longstanding pattern of creative people seeking out workspaces in previously inexpensive areas, only to find themselves priced out as the area becomes more desirable. “They don’t go to places because they are cool, they become cool because they go there.”

At the same launch event, Kirsten Dunne, Senior Cultural Strategy Officer at the London Mayor’s Office, noted that London had recently lost “a third” of its creative workplaces in this way. “One in every six people in London works in the creative industries,” she said. “It’s not an added extra, it is essential to our business model for London. Over the last decade, we’ve lost third of creative workspaces and studios.[If we do nothing] we’re going to lose our ability to innovate. As we plan ahead we need to think of what kind of city we want to live in. We need new places, but they must have culture at the core. The Mayor absolutely gets this.”

The launch event was chaired by John Kampfner, Chief Executive of the Creative Industries Federation. “There are two things that, particularly in London, it is incredibly that we preserve,” he said. “One is affordability and access – that everybody can be encouraged to be creative. The other – with Brexit looming – is openness. This is an extraordinary city and it would be tragic if anything was done to imperil that. My message when I spoke to the Parliamentary committee [on Brexit] was that there is a big difference between permitting people to work here and welcoming someone to work here.”

All images by Uniform © Knight Dragon

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