The Bermondsey Project, which gained planning permission in 2020, will revitalize the former Peek Frean biscuit factory complex to create a vibrant mix of workplace, community amenities, a new school, and build-to-rent homes, 35% of which will be affordable housing. The composition of the master plan was discovered through an intense process of analysis, using KPF’s bespoke software, designers’ intuition, and extensive community engagement over many years. The resulting project will deliver lasting social and economic benefits to the residents of Southwark.
In the London Borough of Southwark, KPF is working with Grosvenor Britain & Ireland on the rejuvenation of a large former industrial site in an underdeveloped neighbourhood. The master plan addresses some of the city’s most pressing needs, from community engagement and social equity to the provision of diverse income housing and how to deliver sustainable development.
NoteThis essay first appeared in the 2022 Spring issue of KPF Review.
Connecting diverse communities
The design intent was to form an active, mixed-use hub, fully integrated with its neighbours and the wider Bermondsey community.
From the outset, the team saw the potential to improve the public realm – beyond the boundaries of the site. The factory had created an impenetrable urban block, KPF’s master plan incorporates a new network of linked routes, playgrounds, public roof gardens and community spaces, shared with immediate neighbours and connecting people across the Borough.
A pedestrian route links Bermondsey Tube station to the north with the shopping centre to the south. Routes are also opened up between existing housing to the west and Southwark Park to the east. The 400 car parking spaces currently on site will be removed, creating pedestrian-only routes.
The development also responds to Southwark’s vision for the Low Line, a route through the Borough, linking its diverse communities along the historic railway arches. Within the Bermondsey Project, an active ground floor celebrates the railway arches and has been designed to reinforce the community of each building, creating retail space that strengthens the surrounding retail environment – instead of replacing it.
An intense community outreach exercise ensured that local communities had a say in the development of the area, and resulted in a Planning Award for excellence in stakeholder engagement.
Developing new urban typologies
The master plan is a vision of humane density and an exercise in developing new urban typologies, to provide outstanding living space.
In contrast to the strict repetition of previous eras’ housing projects that border the site, a family of different buildings has been developed, including tall buildings, mansion blocks, and creatively re-used existing buildings. The former 1970s biscuit warehouse, the largest existing structure on the site, will be retained and transformed.
Uniformity is avoided, but a shared architectural language, informed by the industrial context, brings continuity and a strong sense of ‘place’. Public space across the master plan is defined by a common approach to materiality, and arches are incorporated at the base of the new buildings to respond to the arches of the adjacent railway line, many of which are occupied by retail units.
Generative data was used as a precision tool to inform massing and meet the challenge of locating more than 1,500 flats within a complex urban site. Clear parameters were set, to minimise the impact on daylight to surrounding residences, create public space and provide homes with natural light and good outlooks.
At the centre of the site, the tallest buildings have a subtle entasis, tapering towards the top, and growing out of an articulated base of a similar scale to the existing buildings. Each building or small group was seen as a mini-community with its own shared spaces, terraces, and a focus on encouraging interaction between residents.
The scheme’s materiality and detail aim to reinterpret and assemble aspects of historic Bermondsey within a robust, authentic modernism sensitive to the Victorian and 20th-century contexts. Patterns inspired by biscuit moulds are embossed on window reveals, celebrating the heritage of the site.
Retaining the past, looking to the future
The layering of old and new across the site creates a richer sense of place that resonates with its history and demonstrates the possibility of future relevance.
At the heart of the site, the former biscuit warehouse, becomes a mixed-use hub, a hybrid building combining retrofit with new residential floors above. Retaining significant structures was not part of the competition brief but the case was compelling, in terms of both cultural memory and embodied carbon. The reimagined factory houses workplace, innovative live/work space, a flexible market exhibition space, and a public roof terrace with panoramic views.
The intention was to retain as much of the existing structure as possible, repair and adapt the existing facades to suit the new uses within, and add residential floors above the existing roofline in a way that is sympathetic to context yet identifiably new.
Redefining the industrial character of the former Peek Frean Biscuit Factory Site and celebrating the existing structure was a key concept in the master plan. Within the ground floor, a portion of the dramatic double-height warehouse space has been retained within the residents’ hub.
Meeting the challenge of the Climate Emergency
As part of delivering Grosvenor’s sustainability development brief, ambitious targets were set for both operational energy and embodied carbon, using passive and active measures.
The design team is being challenged to provide innovative design solutions to minimise embodied carbon through the building’s lifecycle. The development will also be connected to a district heating scheme with local energy generation, from SELCHP, an advanced energy recovery facility that uses non-recyclable waste to generate electricity, providing low-carbon energy and reducing the pressure on landfill sites.
The development focuses on active travel, as opposed to the private car, and has a strong urban greening agenda, with planted roofs and terraces, and 140 new trees.