The revitalization of kentish town
IN COLLABORATION WITH
Haruki Hoshii, Sanhita Mehendale, Zhaojie Yang
December 2020 Space Syntax Methodology and Analytical Design
MSc Space Syntax: Architecture and Cities, UCL Bartlett
This project focuses on Kentish Town located in the Camden Borough of London. Its boundaries are clearly defined by both existing and abandoned rail lines, leading to an interesting study of local and global severance of this urban site - predominantly affecting Kentish Town and its surrounding neighborhoods of Gospel Oak and Hampstead Heath.
Our aim was to reintegrate the fragmented site of Kentish Town, focusing on Murphy’s Yard and surrounding industries which has been spatially segregated from the residential areas caused by rail lines. Through the use of space syntax analysis, we analyzed the problems through accessibility and visibility within the neighborhood which have caused this severance; in comparison to the 2020 Camden Town Planning Framework (Camden, 2020) and the 2020 Murphy’s Yard proposal (Murphy’s Yard Consultation, 2020) in order to evaluate the potentials and shortcomings of this plan for a major urban redevelopment.
history and culture
Kentish Town has a rich history which spans back to the 13th century where it began as a rural settlement along the boundary between the City of London and the countryside at that period in time. As a prominent intersection between the city and countryside, it became well known for two traveler inns known as “Mother Red Cap” and “Mother Shipton”.
Due to its poor transport infrastructure and the lack of visibility at night, it was plagued with street crime and robberies in the 1700s which was well documented due to its prevalence (Camden Town and Kentish Town, 1878). However, things started to improve when Lord Camden developed Kentish Town by building 1400 residential housing and connecting it to the street networks of the city. Transport infrastructure continued to improve and in the 1840s, new railways, industrial buildings and train sheds were built, marking the start of the industrial district in the center of Kentish Town.
Meanwhile, the residential and commercial areas of Kentish Town were developing independently. In 1935, The Forum Art Deco Cinema was built at the intersection between Highgate Road and Kentish Town Road. Kentish Town began its transformation from a suburban neighborhood to a landmark of underground music culture. It’s status in subculture surged in the 1960s when the Tally Ho Pub established itself as a popular live concert venue where it hosted a range of jazz to punk rock genre of music. In addition, Bull & Gate pub also gained its popularity as an indie concert venue in the 1990s. Unfortunately, these two pubs went on a significant decline in the early 2000s with the combination of The Forum becoming a large scale music venue taking away their patronage and also architectural decline leading to the pubs becoming less desirable.
Problems with the industrial estate
However, one thing was clear between the two areas of historical and cultural development; as a result of the topological differences and railway severance between the industrial and the residential areas of Kentish Town, the history and culture of these two spaces diverged and had little to no relation to one another. This spatial segregation was evident in our site visit to Kentish Town where pedestrian access from the main Kentish Town Road was mostly separated from the internal industrial estate with very few access points and even fewer visible points from areas with public transportation access.
Therefore, the main problem we identified within Kentish Town was the segregation of the different communities, industrial and residential, within and surrounding Kentish Town.
Scales of analysis, methodologies and findings
Within the overarching issue of segregation within Kentish Town and its surrounding residential estates, we identified three areas of analysis on different scales: micro, meso, macro, and selected three sites of focus in order to form a cohesive idea on how Kentish Town is currently severed by the industrial estate and how effective future town planning proposals will be in addressing this issue.
NACH 1600 Comparison between present scenario and future proposal
micro scale analysis
How does locomotive shed 2 function within Murphy’s Yard as a mixed used public building?
We began on the micro scale analyzing Locomotive Shed 2, a grade 2 historical building proposed in the 2020 plan to be repurposed as a central mixed use community hub for residents and employees around the area with food stalls, event spaces and public engagement workshops. We analyzed its spatial layout with the use of a justified graph, eye and knee level VGA and convex analysis and found that it did not function well as an open public/community space due to the depth and strong spatial programming. It also lacked visibility from the rest of Murphy’s Yard and public access points.
meso scale analysis
How are the re-developments of building facilities in Murphy’s Yard and Regis Road associated with the movement and accessibility within the industrial area?
In the meso scale, we analyzed the lack of visibility into and within Murphy’s Yard from the surrounding streets, as well as the lack of accessibility through and within the area from surrounding neighborhoods. We equated these issues to the poor land use, observed through land use diagrams and building block plans, which eventually resulted in poor pedestrian networks and visibility evidenced by low segment choices isovists and isovist paths.
macro scale analysis
How have the pedestrians and vehicular movement of Kentish Town been affected by industrial transformation over the years?
On the macro scale, we focused on pedestrian accessibility from transportation access points into Murphy’s Yard. This was due to the fact that firstly, the 2020 proposal indicated an entirely pedestrian network within Murphy’s Yard and secondly, due to the existing rail lines, it would be extremely challenging to construct vehicular infrastructure through this area. Therefore, pedestrian access was integral in ensuring a larger scale connection into Murphy’s Yard.
Overall we were surprised by how ineffective the 2020 proposal was in addressing segregation within Kentish Town although it improved pedestrian accessibility to public transport networks around the periphery of the industrial estate. Therefore, equipped with this data, we planned on rectifying these visibility and accessibility issues according to space syntax analysis and methodological approaches.
Integrated design solution
Our integrated design solution aims to turn Murphy’s yard into the urban catalyst for regeneration within the rest of Kentish Town and the reintegration of Kentish Town into the neighboring residential areas. The main concept of designing an urban catalyst relies on the need for spatial integration of road networks, transportation as well as pedestrian access coupled with the introduction of functioning community spaces tying everything together. In terms of building functions, Shed 2 was identified as having a high potential for being a new town center for community purposes due to its strong historical connections as well as the centrality and potential visibility of the space in relation to Hampstead Heath, Gospel Oak and Kentish Town.
Therefore, our design proposed the conversion of abandoned rail lines into a “highline” park, inspired by the highline in Manhattan, New York. This would function as a pedestrian bridge with connections into smaller residential roads of Gospel Oak, cutting through Murphy’s Yard with bridges into the other part of the industrial area (Regis Road) ending at the main Kentish Town commercial high street. Along with this macro scale neighborhood connection are multiple access points that function on a meso scale connecting the residential mixed-use buildings to the north of Murphy’s Yard to the rest of the central Murphy’s Yard where Shed 2 and other new community facilities are placed, activating the accessibility and visual potential of this site as an urban catalyst for neighborhood connection and regeneration.