Hidden behind the swaggering Edwardian facade of a former postal sorting office in north London, Islington Square has been long in the making. Developers Cain International bought the plot in 2003, but it’s taken more than a decade and a half of careful planning and construction for the project to be realised. A tardis-like site, it comprises a paved, double-height arcade that houses a ‘street’ of retail units, restaurants, galleries and events spaces, plus a cinema, 263 new flats – 50 per cent of which are affordable homes – and 108 serviced apartments.
‘The idea was to create a hub that sits at the heart of the surrounding community and brings something different to the vicinity – it’s a new, inclusive, pedestrian-friendly spot for both residents and visitors,’ explains Jonathan Goldstein, CEO of Cain International.
London-based practice CZWG Architects was at the helm of the design and sought to ‘evoke a sense of fresh, accessible grandeur without pastiche’, says partner Piers Gough, who oversaw the project. The sensitive restoration of the main covered courtyard offers a characterful alternative to the capital’s formal arcades and soulless shopping malls, giving shelter while retaining a sense of openness, history and authenticity.
In October, ‘Chapter One’ of the project was revealed, within dependent brands including Earl of East, House of Harth and Conservatory Archives moving in, as well as exhibition spaces from Partnership Editions (with an artists-in-residence programme) and The Photographers’ Gallery. Sitting at the heart of the site is The Workshop, which will host free creative activities, readings, life-drawing classes and talks. For the developers, this was an integral part of the scheme and the key to providing a broader community service without it being solely retail.
While there are parallels to Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross, which shares the same curated approach to brands, Islington Square’s inhabitants will be rotated like a series of pop-up shops. It’s an admirable concept, seeing as it would have been only too easy to fill units with mainstream high-street names. This way, however, smaller, emerging brands, such as Common Ground, a boutique market championing sustainability and ethical practices, will get a platform to grow and engage with customers on a short-lease basis.
Due for completion in 2020, there will be a second arcade and a subterranean Third Space gym (designed by Universal Design Studio), alongside more unique outlets. ‘It’s about creating a space that feels alive but is also pleasant, intriguing and busy,’ Goldstein says. ‘It will hopefully make everyday life a little more interesting. islingtonsquare.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration February 2020
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