At Hackney Wick, since winning the project in 2014, Landolt + Brown Architects and architect trained artist Wendy Hardie have been working with the Olympic Legacy team to develop a highly place-specific station building, new street and tunnel underpass as the central project in the regeneration of Hackney Wick post the 2012 Olympics Games. The brief was to adopt the engineering principles of a previous engineering-led design, but to significantly refine the architecture and to make it more place specific and sensitive to its creative context. Working throughout with Hardie, who trained as an architect for 7 years, the art work was not bolted on after the design was developed, but embedded within the design process from the outset. Director Adam Brown, the lead architect on the project, in conjunction with the artist, sought to create something entirely unique and creatively relevant to Hackney Wick with its 21st century community of artists, drawing references from The Wick’s historical industries, particularly its innovative industrial chemistry, and the experience of walking and cycling the neighbouring Hackney Cut canal and Lee Navigation (The River Lea and its canalised waterways). Of particular interest to the artist’s conceptually structural approach were the enigmatic, low, reflective spaces under the canal’s bridges, the structural language of the light playing out within them, and the materials and forms of the canal, its weeping willows, historic local factories and the molecular chemistry The Wick had been famous for. The project gained planning consent in late 2014, started on site in late 2016 and is due to complete in mid 2018.
The most remarkable element of the project will be a continuous chain of extruded glass hexagons forming a complex yet transparent wall that will separate the public and station sides of a new underpass constructed beneath the railway. This will generate a new street eventually connecting Wallis Rd to White Post Lane. The form of this glass wall, which sits in weathered steel hexagon shoes, draws on the molecular structure of chemical compounds that were invented in Hackney Wick, including the world’s first plastic, parkesine, as well as the character of rusty sheet piled retaining walls and hand mechanised lock gates found along the Lee canals. The glass wall will be side-lit to create a shimmering, glistening environment within the low, raw, cast concrete underpass tunnel, of complex shadow and light evoking memories of the theatrical spaces of those engineering bridges found along the Lee tow path and its muddy eddying river banks.
The stairwell architecture has been inspired by the weeping willows that are found along the Lee Navigation. The stair flights will be constructed of cast in-situ, board shuttered concrete, creating a continuous sculptural form from ground to raised platform level, echoing the twisted trunks and bark of the weeping willows. The powerful natural architectural form of the weeping willow canopy is abstracted into the suspended screen of metal fins and cast, debossed concrete roof allowing strands of light and shadow to move across the deep volume of the stairwells.
The molecular chemistry of Hackney Wick’s past will be abstracted in a debossed concrete frieze running through the station underpass, abstracted notations of chemical compounds representing meldola blue and primuline, important components of the dye industry, petroleum, cellulose nitrate a close relative of the first plastic created in Hackney Wick and shellac.