Lifelong Londoners have always known the secret of the city’s appeal. Not the globally iconic buildings – though Big Ben and Tower Bridge look great on postcards – but the unrivalled public spaces dotted throughout the capital. From its many parks to the beautiful Thameside vistas of the South Bank, Londoners have always been able to find a refuge from the hurly burly of big city life. A moment of quintessentially English calm amid the metropolis.
In modern times, however, it is a rare developer that gives the same attention to public space as can be seen in the countless city squares dating back to the Victorian era. Step forward The Broadway from luxury real estate developer Northacre, which succeeds where many others have failed by taking an iconic London landmark and transforming it into a beautiful public realm for the 21st century.
Built on the site of the former New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan Police for the past 50 years, it is centred around a sprawling piazza and pedestrianised thoroughfare as wide as New Bond Street. “You can’t overstate the importance of public space in London today,” says Chris Foges, editor of Architecture Today. “Buildings don’t mean anything without areas where people can meet and congregate.”
We are lucky now that a few people had the vision to anticipate this. Thirty years ago, when Richard Rogers talked about developing alongside the Thames nobody would give him the time of day. Now it’s hard to imagine the South Bank without all that amazing public space. And if we see the same elsewhere then it can only be for the good of the city.
The Broadway, in the heart Westminster, will see the monolothic concrete structure of New Scotland Yard replaced with six striking towers, transforming the site. In the process Victoria Street will be opened up to the north, bringing light and life where previously there was only the shadow of an ominous-looking grey edifice.
While the luxurious apartments speak for themselves (the unique design means a large number have dual-aspect views stretching right across the city), for the residents and workers of Victoria the real transformation is taking place at ground level. A 20,000sq ft public piazza will set the buildings back from their inspiration, the art deco splendour of Grade I-listed 55 Broadway, once London’s tallest office building. South of the piazza, which will host landmark public artworks, a new pedestrianised thoroughfare will link The Broadway with Victoria Street.
This means two acres of London previously locked away under police protection will be opened up to the public. The planting of trees and creation of public meeting and seating areas will provide a new oasis for the hardworking denizens of Victoria. “These are exciting times for the Victoria area,” adds Foges. “It’s incredibly central, with amazing transport links, but for decades very little was done in terms of development.”
Indeed, given its advantages of having two Tube lines and a main-line rail station on its doorstep, it is odd that Victoria was for so long the forgotten district. Bordered by the Thames to the south and the royal parks to the north, this prime real estate is only now coming into its own. As Clive Aslet, the former editor of Country Life and a renowned authority on architecture, puts it: “One of the great attractions of London is its open space. It appeals to everyone, from the super-rich who will be buying The Broadway apartments to the average man on the street.”
People don’t want to be shut off behind walls and exclusivity any more. The fact that loads of things are happening at street level is the whole point of living in London. We’re not over-blessed with public space in Victoria and even in the neighbouring areas, Pimlico and Belgravia, the lovely green squares are only open to keyholders. So the fact that this lovely public space is appearing in place of New Scotland Yard, which by its very nature was closed off and architecturally forbidding, is a bonus. The area around Victoria needs more light. And remember, rich people buy houses in the country for privacy, but in London it’s the vibrancy of the city they love. You can't have that without good public spaces.
Not that Northacre is taking a slash-and-burn approach to the project – far from it. The Broadway’s design has been carefully moulded to reflect the art deco heritage of the surrounding area. The towers are mounted on two podiums, reflecting the shape of 55 Broadway, while the windows are formed in diamond shapes – classic art deco lines. All this comes as part of a wider drive to redevelop this part of Westminster, moving out the old government offices, which saw it dubbed “civil service central” and replacing them with a new, cooler and more forward-looking population.
Come 2021 you will be able to step out of St James’s Tube and into The Broadway piazza, with new artworks to add to the prized façade sculptures by Jacob Epstein and Henry Moore, which can be seen in surrounding streets. With the creation of new apartments, shops and office space, this area is set to provide major competition to its neighbours Pimlico and Belgravia. “The idea is to create a place that enhances the lives of both those living above and the community on the streets down below,” says Niccolò Barattieri di San Pietro, chief executive officer at The Broadway’s developer Northacre.
By replacing a big, grey, closed building with a beautiful new public space open to everybody, we hope to make this dream come true.