Woodberry Down is a large regeneration project located in North London, close to Manor House Tube station, and situated on the banks of the New River facing the East and West Reservoirs. Over 4,600 new homes will eventually be created on this 26-hectare site, which will be one of the UK’s largest estate redevelopment projects.
Landscape architecture firm Murdoch Wickham have been involved in a number of the phases of this development including the design and improvement of the New River Walkway, as well as a number of courtyards, amenity spaces and green routes.
This walkway is designated as a site of metropolitan importance and is an area of ecological significance in the city. It is this natural resource that has inspired the design of the green spaces at Woodberry Down, with green fingers reaching from the New River, weaving nature through and into the heart of the development.
According to project lead John Wickham: “There was an overarching landscape master plan prepared by Townsend’s, which was then divvied up and broken down into different segments, and we effectively have been looking at the MOL which is the Metropolitan Open Land, including a new river and two reservoirs. It comprises of Kickstart 1, 2, 3, 4 and Spring Park.
“We have effectively taken the story of water from source to delta as the narrative to drive the project. So if you can imagine a spring starting in the mountains, working its way down the mid sections and out into wider rivers and towards the sea.”
BALI Award Winner 2016 for Woodberry Down KSS3, Soft Landscaping Construction between £300K and £1.5 million
2010 – Ongoing
Asked what the main challenges of the project were, Mudoch elaborates. “We have have tried to create as much naturalised interest as possible, and the narrative of the river will be seen in its entirety in Spring Park once the project is complete. We have a very fluvial network of swales which then bifurcate into deltas adjacent to the reservoirs.
“A key challenge here was working with the engineers to ensure that the invert levels work in our favour. What tends to happen is engineers tend to sink invert levels lower than they need to be, which means we have to do more land-take for the SuDS system. We tried to maintain as high as possible an invert level and have a light touch on the landscape, instead of having these very deep swales and SuDS. We worked very hard with the engineers to keep them as high as possible.
“The other component was to ensure that the health and safety of the SuDS system and open water borders complied with environment agency regulations. We had to work hard to convince the client not to have fences around our water features, by making them as safe as necessary, and not as safe as possible. That has kept the natural feel of the water system flowing through the development.
“The work has been rolled out in phases, as they can only sell so many units per year, and the speed of the programme tends to be led by that. It has been a very successful project for the client, and they don’t have any product to sell at the moment, so the programing and phasing is based on the rate of sales, and we have been working on it for about six or seven years so far.”
And what parts does Wickham feel are particularly innovative? “Working closely with the architectural and engineering team to make the SuDS system legible and an intrinsic part of the design and face-making of the landscape. In our design, we tap into the roof drainage by use of visible outlets, and then where we want to try and create an effect where we have cascading water for example in the courtyards of Kickstart 3, we have used the raised levels because of the ramped access into the car park. We have introduced water features which are driven by pumps housed in plant rooms, and tried to create a feeling that it was a continuous water-course system.
“Another thing we worked hard to integrate into the landscape was the venting of the underground parking areas. Generally these come up through the decks in an insensitive way, and we have tried to integrate the detailed design of them into the design of the landscape.”
Woodberry Down lies in the northwest of the London Borough of Hackney. It sits beside the Seven Sisters Road, which thunders down past Finsbury Park and on towards central London.
To the south of the site are two large reservoirs – secret, tranquil spaces unknown to most people hurrying away from Manor House tube station to the west. Across the junction at that corner of the estate is Finsbury Park, stretching from its Victorian gates north towards the edge of the Middlesex hills.
Between 1948 and the late 1960s, 42 blocks of local authority housing stock were built at Woodberry Down. These uniform slabs were emblematic of the affordable housing constructed during that era. They observed the current utopian ideal of large units set in empty open space. Over the ensuing decades, the estate fell into disrepair and was soon beset with high crime rates, unemployment and the physical decline of the buildings themselves.
Increasingly, the area fell victim to its own poor reputation. In 2002, Hackney Council undertook a full structural assessment of the estate. They determined not simply to refurbish the buildings but to work closely with the residents to remake the place. Three years later, Berkeley was selected as the preferred developer partner to work with the Council and Genesis Housing Association on the regeneration of Woodberry Down.
Despite initial work being undertaken in the midst of recession, the early phases have been delivered without compromise on the quality of build specifications, space standards or the public realm. The first new residents have now moved in to homes looking out across the water, past a yacht club to the spires (both sacred and financial) of the city.
In 2011, 2012 and 2013, Woodberry Down won national awards for the best social housing development.
This feature first appeared in the February 2017 issue of Landscape Insight.