London’s Eclectic New Design District Takes Shape

An array of up-and-coming firms each contribute two distinct buildings for London’s newly opened Design District, creating a vibrant community hub rich in amenities and architectural gems.

All photography by Taran Wilkhu

The Greenwich Peninsula in London was once the site of a giant gasworks, but in the past couple decades has seen major developments such as the Millennium Dome revitalize the area. The latest, called the Design District, comes courtesy of developer Knight Dragon delivering a calculated jumble of disparate buildings—16 total by eight up-and-coming architecture firms—within a compact plot situated behind the Gateway Pavilions Building. According to the master plan, each building will connect to form a vibrant community where 1,800 creatives will work together across 150,000 square feet of affordable workspace. 

While each commissioned firm was encouraged to think outside of the box for their respective buildings, none were made aware of what other firms had in mind. “We were determined that it should be a dynamic, engaging, and exciting piece of city—somewhere that jolts you into action, and spurs creative thought,” Helen Arvanitakis, director of Design District, told Dezeen. “This calculatedly eclectic approach undoubtedly created a possibility for clashes and contrasts, but we knew we had to embrace the risk if we were going to build somewhere genuinely innovative that would reflect and inspire the creative community it was intended to serve.”

While tasking architects to create personality-packed buildings in such close proximity with little knowledge of the master plan may seem like a risky proposition, the developers pulled it off. Drawing from both Venice and American roadside structures, David Kohn Architects envisioned “miniature glowing palazzi” in which green glass boxes nest atop rows of giant red columns. Another building by Mole Architects, meanwhile, is clad in dichroic skin that glistens with a blue-orange shimmer. A transparent building by Serpentine Pavilion designers SelgasCano contains the Design District Canteen, which contains a bar and six restaurants. One would be hard-pressed to believe that the district—a vibrant new creative hub with a charming character all its own—sits on a former gasworks with decontaminated soil.

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