© Jeremy Selwyn
Google’s move to a million-square-foot bespoke office complex at King’s Cross Central will be the biggest UK property deal of the 21st century so far — and will cement London’s position as the technology capital of Europe.
As London emerges from the banking crisis, it is re-inventing itself. New digital hubs are rejuvenating neighbourhoods where old trades and technologies have perished. This is bringing a fresh vibe to the streets, together with designer homes for techies who want to live close to their workplace.
The cluster of tech companies around Old Street’s so-called Silicon Roundabout — a breeding ground for ideas and product development — has helped transform Shoreditch into a top residential address. Royal Docks and the Olympic Park are becoming centres for green technology, while Covent Garden, formerly crammed with advertising agencies, now has more space occupied by “TMT” (technology, media and telecoms) companies than anywhere else in London — 2.2 million sq ft, up 30 per cent since 2009.
The cluster effect
Google will relocate to King’s Cross from offices in Victoria and Holborn in 2016. The site will be the internet giant’s European headquarters and is the company’s first design-and-build project anywhere in the world.
“The view of life in California [where Google was born] — on sustainability, recycling and so on — is very different,” according to David Partridge, chief executive of Argent, the building’s developer. “It has involved a lot of transatlantic discussion and a merging of knowledge and understanding. This will be a truly 21st-century workplace.”
Google expects a technology cluster to evolve in the surrounding area as a result of its move. “It’s the key ingredient for King’s Cross and will help anchor more tech companies in London,” says Edward Lister, deputy London mayor for policy and planning.
One communication highway opening up is the Regent’s Canal, which links King’s Cross, Shoreditch and Paddington. Run-down sections of waterfront continue to be brought back to life, with developers finding space for homes, loft offices and eateries, often small-business and live-work enclaves, as at Kingsland Basin and City Road Basin.
© John Sturrock
Transformation of 67 acres of blighted railway land at King’s Cross has proved a regeneration masterclass. It is an entirely new district in the making, with 20 new streets and “boulevards”, public squares, restored heritage buildings, modern offices and retail space, plus 1,900 new homes, 40 per cent of which are “affordable”, available through One Housing Group.
As many as 30,000 people will eventually work at King’s Cross Central, and 6,000 will live there. Google’s presence will complement the new campus for Central St Martins College of Art and Design, a splendid Victorian granary, or “warehouse of ideas” for 5,000 students and staff.
King’s Cross Central’s 2,000 homes are spread across 13 residential buildings, with about 40 per cent of the apartments designated “affordable”, a mix of rented and shared ownership. Argent is developing the site alone, rather than parcelling up land and selling off plots to housebuilders, meaning there is a coherent plan, with all the public-realm infrastructure in place before construction commences. The aim is to deliver high-quality architecture on a big site with a relatively low number of homes.
Creating living space
ArtHouse is the first scheme of private homes — 114 flats in a building with a façade of terracotta tiles, polished stainless steel and sliding louvre screens. On the market now are penthouses, priced from £1.55 million. Completion is in autumn 2013. Call Knight Frank on 020 7861 5499.
Launching next is Canal Reach — townhouses and apartments in a block crowned with a sky garden. Coming later are eagerly awaited apartments built within the iconic Victorian gasholder frames. These listed cast-iron structures have been dismantled and put in safe storage pending the start of construction.
A former engineering yard next to King’s Cross station has become Regent Quarter, a smart community of homes, design studios and small business premises in cobbled courtyards, while at Battlebridge Basin, canalside warehouses have been turned into trendy lofts and workspaces for creatives. Here, too, is King’s Place, a new 430-seat concert venue with art galleries and waterside restaurants.
Boost to business
Development ripples are spreading out towards Barnsbury, Angel and Bloomsbury. Google will retain its Innovation Hub in east London. The government-backed East London Tech City is a media and technology hub that spreads from Shoreditch to Stratford. Modelled on Silicon Valley in the United States, it has more than 3,000 tech firms, including Cisco, Facebook, Intel, Vodafone and Amazon, and employs 50,000 people in the digital economy. Imperial College and UCL are among the academic partners, with Barclays providing specialist banking finance to start-ups and entrepreneurs.
City Road, which runs from Silicon Roundabout to Angel, has become a development corridor. Behind the busy thoroughfare a nine-acre canal basin is being opened up and turned into a mixed-use estate of homes, businesses, recreational outlets and boat club.
Developer Mount Anvil and housing association Affinity Sutton are offering 307 new homes, 69 for shared ownership, at The Lexicon — three canalside buildings, including a 36-storey tower. Adjacent to Silicon Roundabout is 27-storey Eagle House, another Mount Anvil scheme, with 276 flats. To register, call 020 7776 1800.
Kingsland Basin, just north of the Shoreditch heartland, is being turned into a new waterside community with 207 new homes. The £65 million project includes the restoration of two listed stable buildings (once providing horse-drawn carriages for hire — the origins of “Hackney carriages”), which are being turned into studios and workshops for tech start-ups and small businesses. The canal bank is being opened up for recreational use, with eco-zones on the edges of the basin planted with native species to attract birds and other wildlife.
Hertford Wharf is one of three new apartment blocks, a modern architectural take on traditional wharves and warehouses, where homes have been released for sale. Prices from £385,000. Call 0844 406 9299 or visit kingslandwharves.co.uk.