Celebrating the architecture of London City Island

The Island’s unique design and development as a cultural hub will be in the spotlight this month as part of the London Festival of Architecture 2022

The month of June is when summer officially begins, and in London it certainly feels like change is in the air. Wedding season is in full swing, and alfresco events and festivals fill up our diaries left, right and centre. June is also the start of the London Festival of Architecture (LFA), a month-long celebration of design and the built environment in the capital, which began in 2004.

‘The Festival’s mission has always been to open up discussions around architecture, test new ideas and uncover and promote new talent,’ commented Rosa Rogina, director of LFA. ‘What makes the LFA unique is that the festival programme is people-led and curated by over 200 organisations and individuals. It’s the breadth and creativity of this festival community that delivers such a varied and engaging programme of events for the festival each June.’

One of this year’s highlights is a tour of London City Island from architecture firm Glenn Howells on Thursday 16 June. The development is categorised under “Royal Docks” – one of the key locations identified as “LFA Destinations 2022”, which also include Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, South Westminster and the City of London. The 12-acre island, which is surrounded by the River Lea, was completed in 2016 and named Best New Place to Live at the London Planning Awards the following year. As well as providing more than 1,700 new homes, Glenn Howells Architects was also behind the striking Bauhaus-inspired English National Ballet headquarters, which sits like a ‘glowing pearl’ in the centre of the island.

‘The upcoming LFA tour is about introducing people to London City Island – whether local residents, prospective tenants, or people with an interest in creative urban design, and the transformation of London’s historic waterside environments,’ commented Dan Mulligan, partner at Glenn Howells Architects. ‘The tour focuses on the creative co-location of residential, retail, culture and workspace on the Island – and the jewel in its crown, the English National Ballet building… The soft, light tones of the ENB building provide a fantastic counterpoint to the harder brick buildings and bold colours surrounding it. Not only that, but its presence has also proven the basis of a burgeoning cultural hub.’

Rosa Rogina, Director, London Festival of Architecture

Appealing to creatives and independent businesses has always been important to London City Island. As well as English National Ballet, the island is also home to the likes of The Woods Studios music and recording hub, whose co-founder, singer and producer Dantae Johnson, is also a local resident, and couture fashion house Lulu Liu. English National Ballet may be the anchor for this, but creatives are no doubt attracted to the Island because of its contemporary design. Influence for the development came from the heritage and ecology of the area and that of the wider Docklands area; what Glenn Howells describes as an ‘industrial aesthetic’ that forms a design language.

The apartment and townhouse interiors are large and open plan with Crittall steel partitions akin to a New York loft apartment. The residential towers themselves are characterised by their colourful glazed brick facades, which were specially created by Dutch firm Wienerberger. Shimmering shades of red, blue and white dazzle in bright sunlight and appear to change in tone when viewed from different parts of the Island and the water.

‘To ensure continuity of the site’s place-specific identity, we created a collage of vibrant multi-coloured residential buildings, making the cluster on the peninsula recognisable from any surrounding viewpoint,’ explains Dan Mulligan.

‘What makes the London Festival of Architecture unique is that the festival programme is people-led.’

Rosa Rogina, Director, London Festival of Architecture

London’s historic Docklands have been transformed since mass closures in the 1980s. Having sat unused for years, these areas were a rich source of potential for developers, given their vast size, unique history and excellent connectivity to the rest of the capital. Before London City Island, perhaps the most prolific example of such a transformation was neighbouring Canary Wharf, which was developed into a modern city neighbourhood by Canadian property tycoon Paul Reichmann in the early 1990s. Reichmann was no doubt inspired by his recent triumph of the World Financial Centre in New York, and the architecture of Canary Wharf took a cue from slick Manhattan skyscrapers; a familiar blueprint for London City Island.

‘It is fantastic to see a number of former industrial sites across London being transformed into vibrant new urban areas for people to live, work and visit,’ agreed Rogina. ‘I am really excited Glenn Howells Architects will be leading a walking tour as part of the London Festival of Architecture this June, offering an architectural insight and behind-the-scenes tour of the English National Ballet – a cultural facility at the heart of London City Island and its surrounding area.’

Added Mulligan: ‘An amazing site, ambitious developer, a diverse design team, and the creative co-location of different businesses, institutions, creative practitioners and residents have ensured that London City Island has made a fantastic contribution to the emerging waterside communities of East London. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for it.’

London Festival of Architecture takes place from 1-30 June; The free walking tour of London City Island takes place on Thursday 16 June from 13:45-16:00. Book your spot here.