Open House 2013:Old Ford Waste Water Recycling Facility
This year's London Open House allowed access to part of the Olympic Park I'd walked past a hundred times but never previously been inside. The Old Ford Nature Reserve used to be tucked away near the end of the Greenway, adjacent to the Lea, just across the water from the Big Breakfast House. It was overseen by the London Wildlife Trust, but permanently locked to provide a protected refuge for flora and fauna. And then the Olympics erupted nextdoor, literally nextdoor, with the main Stadium only 100 metres away. Unlike other greenspaces this one survived, but was swiftly appropriated for a scheme on the sustainability agenda. Water would be needed on site to flush the toilets and to keep the meadows blooming, so a recycled water facility hit the spot. The plan was to siphon liquid muck from the adjacent Northern Outfall Sewer, convert it to non-potable water and pump this out through a network of pipes across the entire Olympic Park. Achievement unlocked. A group of small buildings was created around an existing borehole, including larch-coated storage tanks and a cluster of cubes panelled with self-corroding steel. We were shown round these in small groups, discovering that one cube contains an educational visual aid consisting of six water tanks and a flushing toilet. The main recycling facility is the size of a minor church, although the tower is in no way ornate and the walls are timber-panelled with stone gabions. Inside we clumped up the metal staircase to stare down into the filters, then clumped back down to walk through the pumproom. Compared to what I've seen at Abbey Mills this is wholeheartedly modern stuff, more like a microbrewery than a temple, and all powered by a computer system in the small office beyond. And yes, the nature reserve survives, bar the small area by the gate where staff park their cars. The nature trail packs in grassy thickets and a new pond, but is only 90 seconds long and will only be seen by schoolchildren invited by Thames Water. It's good to know that the Olympic Park's water supply has a sustainable future, but who knew that all those wild flowers we adored last summer were probably fuelled by purified sewage? [3 photos]
Open House 2013:Sir Ludwig Guttmann Health and Wellbeing Centre When Olympic and Paralympic athletes fell ill last summer, they nipped off to the polyclinic in the East Village for treatment. This brand new facility had to meet two exacting briefs - first to cope with a brief inundation from the world's elite, then to act as a long-term health centre for East London. As part of Open House we got to meet the trio who squared the circle. That's the architect, the London 2012 centre manager and, perhaps most importantly, the man who has to make the building viable in legacy. He led us round, showing what will or might go where, and beardy architect Mark chipped in his rationale along the way. The site restricted his design somewhat, tucked into a dead-end triangle with railways on two sides. Nevertheless this is an imposing building on four levels, built from off-white bricks and with a sharp spike piercing the sky above the main entrance. A pharmacy will face the street on Liberty Bridge Road, beyond which is a tall atrium that hangs the building together. A staircase scissors invitingly up to the top floor, encouraging a bit of healthy climbing, although there are adequate lifts for those who can't manage. A GP's practice is lined up for the ground floor rooms, initially small but with room for expansion as the population of the Olympic Park grows. The future of the upper treatment rooms is less certain, the local NHS can't necessarily afford them, so it's the manager's job to find organisations who could and would be able to fill them. Nevertheless it's his hope that the public will make this place their own, maybe pop in for a communal coffee, especially the residents of north Stratford and south Leyton just across the railway. The name's a bit of a mouthful (Ludwig Guttmann was the first director of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and credited with launching the first paraplegic Games). But this is a fine modern building, light and airy and (as you'd expect) ecologically sound. The SLGHaWC opens properly in a couple of months, so let's hope it successfully sews itself into the local community as the next few years pass. And who knows, maybe one day you too will be treated in a room where a world class athlete was patched and healed. [3 photos]
Open House 2013:Dane's Yard & Strand East Tower
Meanwhile, over on Stratford High Street, not every Open House venue gets it right. Dane's Yard advertised itself in the programme as "10 min talk on the hour about the scheme to date and proposed development", then inexplicably ran 20 minute tours on the half hour instead. That angered a few people who'd turned up specially and suddenly found they had ages to wait, but thankfully the volunteers relented and led us inside anyway. Unfortunately they seemed to know virtually nothing about the site, and blustered vacuously on the way in. "This is some machinery from when it used to be a factory..." "this is some art..." "erm, yes". Thankfully in the exhibition space above the restaurant we met the architect, that's the lady in charge of the masterplan for a whole new corner of Newham, another Open House coup. She enthused about her plan to build an entire neighbourhood between the Three Mills Wall River and the River Lea with homes for 1200 and a commercial strip along the main road. You may have heard of this as the IKEA Village, although it's actually funded by an entirely parallel company and there'll be no furniture megastore on site. From the 3D model on display, expect lowrise apartments meshed with highrise towers, and three of the old industrial chimneys preserved as a nod to heritage. I was surprised to see a large Marriott hotel in the plans - does anyone really want to pay over the odds to stay overnight overlooking the Bow Flyover? But hurrah for the additional bridges that'll be built to knit this triangle of land into its surroundings, one of which will provide a busway from Bromley-by-Bow. I'd show you aphoto of the model, but the chief architect was absolutely insistent none were taken because final layouts rarely match initial plans. And I'd tell you more, but the leaflet we were given was a poor colour copy with white text on a red background and is therefore entirely illegible. I hope the reality that's built at Strand East is more impressive, because some of us have to live alongside.
Open House 2013:Gasholder No 8 And finally, in a completely different part of the capital, a restored Victorian gasholder. This was one of nine planted to the north of King's Cross in the late 19th century, ideally located beside the Regent's Canal for the delivery of coal. And here it would have stayed were it not for the arrival of the Channel Tunnel rail link and the complete redevelopment of the old goods yard for housing and office space. Down came the latticed girders and down came the 16 hollow cast iron columns, shipped off to Yorkshire for restoration. And recently they've been put up again, so recently that the last column only rose into place last Friday, and the final girder joined the circle earlier this week. The ultimate plan is to create an open green space in the centre, a humped lawn to encourage lying back and staring up at the circumference. At ground level will be a cobbled pathway, surrounded by a continuous colonnade supported by 150 fin pillars. You don't quite get the picture right now, standing on astroturf in the middle of the guideframe surrounded by an enormous building site. Three other gasholders, the famous Siamese Triplets, are being rebuilt close by but with apartments inside. There's no sign yet, but the estate's Energy Centre is already ascending alongside Gasholder No 8, creating a juxtaposition of power infrastructure old and new. Unlike most other Open House venues this one's open this weekend too, this as part of King's Cross Journeys, a two-day festival celebrating gritty Victoriana. That and thereopening (today!) of the piazza in front of King's Cross station, which is most definitely worth three cheers. One foot in the past, another firmly in the future, King's Cross's transformation still has a long way to run.