Award for London development puts local architects on the map

CITY PLANNERS: Michael Lees and the team of Tunbridge Wells architects behind Sugar Island

Award for London development puts local architects on the map

31st July 2019

A LOCAL architectural firm has beat off stiff competition, including the man who designed London’s iconic Shard and the team behind the proposed Calverley Square development in Tunbridge Wells, to win a coveted design award.

A LOCAL architectural firm has beat off stiff competition, including the man who designed London’s iconic Shard and the team behind the proposed Calverley Square development in Tunbridge Wells, to win a coveted design award.

 

ARC-ML, which has been based in Tunbridge Wells since 2008, took home the Masterplan and Area Strategies Award at the New London Architectural Awards 2019 earlier this month for their work on Sugar House Island, a development near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London.

 

Representing an entire new town quarter, the ten-acre project on a brownfield site next to the River Lea includes scores of office blocks, more than 1,200 residential units, retail space, gastronomy, a hotel and parkland. 

 

Unusually for a project this size, developers Vastint UK chose Tunbridge Wells architects ARC-ML rather than a company based in London or another large European city.

 

The Chapel Place-based company successfully beat such major competitors as Allies and Morrison, who designed the proposed Calverley Square for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, as well as Renzo Piano, who designed the Shard building at London Bridge, when the winners were announced during a prestigious lunch at the City of London’s Guildhall.

 

Michael Lees, who runs ARC-ML, said the team worked on the project from 2010 until the end of 2018, developing a design concept for the site at the beginning, and then getting planning consent for it.

 

“We are quite often ignored because we are based in Tunbridge Wells and not London, but this is a great acknowledgement,” he said. 

“This award is quite simply an acknowledgement of all the hard work we have put in over the years,” he added.

 

Mr Lees explained that not only did the company author the ‘Masterplan’ for the entire East London development, they also ‘provided a guiding role’ and got a number of other independent architects involved to build some of the town quarter’s other buildings.

 

He said: “We invited other architects to do some of the buildings because we wanted to enliven the character of the place with a number of different influences.

 

“We believe a single architect shouldn’t just do a project of that size on their own because their ‘signature’ becomes too detectable, or even predictable, in the visual identity of the place.”

 

He added that while the business was originally started in Berlin in 2004, they – rather unusually for an architectural practice – opted not to open their second studio in a major European city.

 

“The fact is Tunbridge Wells is a very attractive town to live in with a good quality of life,” commented Mr Lees. 

 

“With a studio in the historic enclave of Chapel Place and interesting projects all over Europe, why go to London – or Berlin, for that matter?”

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