The Friday lunchtime event was hosted by Jemima Burrill, curator at Greenwich Peninsula's Now Gallery, and broadcast live via Zoom, complete with an enthusiastic chat room and follow-up Q&A. To see when our next talks will take place, click here.
Bowles gave a fascinating insight into Mole Architects' sources of inspiration, strategies for meeting budget demands and environmental standards, and some of their other projects around the country. He also addressed the unusual nature of the project brief.
Developers Knight Dragon had asked each of the practices involved to work in silo, with no knowledge of the surrounding structures being dreamt up by their peers. Other than the fixed plots allotted by the site's masterplan (overseen by architect Hannah Corlett) and a budget that would keep rents in the finished buildings affordable, the architects were given a free hand.
‘What they were seeking was diversity,’Bowles explained, ‘a set of individual responses rather than a corporate [one].’
Besides both being clad in metal, the two buildings designed by Mole have little in common. As Burrill pointed out, you might expect a brief for a pair of structures on one site to result in twins. Bowles, however, was more interested in creating buildings with distinct personalities.
Low-carbon construction was not a new challenge to Bowles and his team at Mole Architects. As with previous projects, they've turned to timber for their Design District buildings. Use of the material not only results in considerably lower carbon emissions than concrete, but wood has the added benefit of absorbing CO2 as it grows.
One of Design District's biggest architectural gambles has been the diminutive scale of the spaces between buildings. It's unusual in new developments to place buildings close together in a way that echoes more traditional urban environments. But as Bowles pointed out — referring to Terry Farrell's 1980s Comyn Ching Triangle regeneration in Covent Garden — the result can be a kind of space familiar from existing places, something with ‘a scale that encloses you as a human.’
One of these, C2, is a rectangular reimagining of the ziggurat-like gasometers that crowded this part of London when it was Europe's largest gas producer. The other, D2, is a rhomboid, glowing with the colour — or rather colours — of a gas flame.
Despite little discernible family resemblance, it turns out the siblings have identifiable parents. Bowles showed an archival picture from the Energy Research Station (a government facility once located on the peninsula) depicting a male and female scientist, each holding obscure pieces of equipment. Their function remains unknown, but the shape and materiality of each went on to inform the two buildings.