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people and place in common

When it comes to our clients, arguably we have millions. The people within the towns and cities we design spaces in, up and down the country, are as much our clients as the developers we work alongside. To us, history, community, people, and place are the drivers behind every regeneration scheme we undertake.

Since we began as a practice 25 years ago, we have been breathing fresh life into underused spaces, saving old buildings from destruction, and working with the strengths of the existing built and social fabric of a city. Two of our very first projects from over 20 years ago were regeneration schemes in Liverpool. Matchworks was a conversion of a Grade II Listed factory from 1918 into a spacious contemporary office building, demonstrating how commercial units can ooze character and quality, far from the soulless standard. Collegiate – another sensitive conversion from our early days, illustrated how an old school from 1843 can be seamlessly transformed into apartments, with the preservation of original neo-gothic features central to its design and charm.

Since then, we’ve been adapting Victorian mills in Manchester, creating new cultural hubs in ‘80s estates in London and providing much needed homes on disused urban sites from the 18th Century in Birmingham, to name a few. Our approach has always remained the same, whether in the north and south: we analyse and recognise the existing, historic grain of each unique place and its people, ensuring that our proposals are grafted on to the past whilst looking to the future.

common projects

Today, we’re consolidating all our learnt experience from the north and south to team up with Common Projects in London – who create places and homes to empower communities and nurture creative industries – on 1960s Zodiac House in Croydon, and Wandsworth Gasworks from the 1830s. We caught up with Common director Steve Sanham, to hear more about their ethos and why they have chosen to collaborate with shedkm again on these projects:

“We believe that development can and should bring with it long-term benefits for the local people we are working among. Development is change; taking a piece of the city and shaping into something different and new has a tangible effect on its surroundings. For anything more than a single building, there is always a shift. This can be fundamentally positive – upgrading existing buildings to make them lovely again; respecting the social fabric of an area created by its cultural offering; supporting young people facing a tough housing market – and these are things we need ‘property development’ to start doing for cities. We want our projects to help show how.

Repurposing our already-built spaces is essential if we are to stay within our finite carbon budget. The current casual attitude to demolition is terrifying, and we must make reuse the starting point, every time. But to make it viable to take something run-down and unlovely and make it marketable, we’ll need to be clever about financing models, about working within the constraints of the planning system, and more than anything, with our design approach. The industry needs a massive upskilling in re-use, both in terms of technical solutions and in how we put together the business case for more ‘difficult’ projects.

Re-use is more than an environmental play. It says to the public that we appreciate heritage; we aren’t so arrogant that we believe new is better; and we can use sensitive, granular ways to tease part of a neighbourhood back into health.

zodiac house

Working with Zodiac, our 200-home scheme in Broad Green, Croydon, we are respecting the streetscape, bringing a classic 1960s office ‘forecourt’ back to life within the existing footprint of the site. A former office block, derelict for years, is becoming first-time buyer homes. Reimagining what we have, what we took on when we bought the site, is forcing us to be creative within immovable constraints, and while we can’t suppress the ‘market value’ of what we sell (it is the value dictated by the market after all), we can work with the likes of shedkm to bring unviable areas and buildings back into meaningful use – areas that by their very nature will be priced lower than their more established surroundings. We like to think about the activation and amenity in new spaces as part of a continuum, not an entirely fresh start. West Croydon has so much to offer already – it does not need us to tell it what to be – we need to listen.

Zodiac was half-empty, seen as an eyesore, and its generous open spaces were no longer serving the area. Local residents, community groups and business owners wanted a development that brought with it true benefits for the immediate neighbourhood. So, we have upgraded the existing residential tower, benefitting the people who want to stay living there, and turned the vacant office space into new apartments, private courtyards and shared spaces, and the street-side forecourt will soon become a community-owned garden and public pavilion.

wandsworth gasworks

Wandsworth Gasworks was a similarly tricky prospect. Redeveloping industrial heritage sites has a bit of a sexy rep these days, thanks to developments like Gasholders at King’s Cross, but the reality is that it’s financially difficult, and technically complex. We found that, like most of London, the area was increasingly polarising, with house prices climbing and landowners seeing dollar signs, making it hard for local businesses and cultural organisations to maintain a foothold. We are excited that our first resident of the Gasworks is Neko Trust, an awesome charity that supports London’s music scene through education programmes for young people. Neko was homeless; now they’re already up and running in a temporary space, while we move forward on the planning process to give them a permanent home at the centre of the new development – ensuring that this development will be of Wandsworth rather than just in Wandsworth.

I have worked with Hazel and the shedkm team for nearly 20 years, in several guises (at Urban Splash, Argent, HUB, and now Common). To start with, it’s fun working with shedkm – they’re nice people, and have good ideas, and they push us to think in ways that we might not. They also resist clients pushing them toward any particular conclusion – as challenging as that might feel at the time, it brings real value to the development process. shedkm’s architectural style is clean, crisp, unfussy, and fun.”