Covent Garden: Designing the Next Layer

Although a renowned district with a rich history, world-class cultural assets such as the Royal Opera House, and highly significant historic architecture, Covent Garden was in need of improvement when acquired by our client Capital and Counties (Capco) in 2006.

Intensive tourism, public realm congestion, lack of maintenance, and outdated facilities had made this a part of London avoided by most Londoners. Aspiring to make Covent Garden a world-class urban mixed use district, Capco seeks to both improve the quality of the visitor experience and re-balance the mix of uses to include residential, modern workplaces, and upgraded retail and food and beverage outlets.

A masterplan was needed to assemble the many small scale initiatives around the estate within an overall development framework. Three workflows emerged as part of a long term investment by our clients:

  • Public realm improvements
  • Conservation and re-positioning of the heritage assets
  • Replacement of non-contributing outdated buildings with new architecture
    Historic Covent Garden

    Masterplan Concepts

    KPF’s expertise in mixed use environments allowed us to conceive of this historic section of London as a single functioning entity that sponsors a great diversity of experience. Covent Garden is something of a prototype for modern mixed use developments insofar as it has always supported a diverse mix of uses. Originally a speculative residential development of the Duke of Bedford in 1630 it later became a marketplace, then an entertainment district, and more recently a retail destination. The KPF masterplan initiates a new phase of evolution that builds on this diversity of experience and conserves the intrinsic qualities of the place.

    Bring Londoners back to Covent Garden: Encourage a better mix of Londoners and tourists. Brand Covent Garden as a destination that offers multiple experiences to the individual user.
    Open the Blocks:Carve open spaces out from the solid blocks, which will be suitable for residential communities.
    Create a Contemporary Mixed-use District:Establish a well balanced menu of integrated use within a historic context. This diversity of use will reinvigorate the experiences of visitors and residents, and allow Covent Garden to evolve over time.
    Create Places: Define the urban rooms of Covent Garden to intensify placemaking.

    Improved permeability throughout the district is a first principle, as reflected by the creation of entirely new pedestrian routes and courtyards which improve links to surrounding transit hubs and neighbouring districts, alleviate congestion, and increase retail frontage. Several new courts and atria have opened up formerly closed interiors of blocks to the public realm.

    Layers of Enhancement

    Six key approaches to shape the future of Covent Garden as a mixed-use district:

    (L-R) Gateways: Clearly define the entry points to Covent Garden.Green: Bring the garden back to Covent Garden.Follies and animation: Activate the public realm.
    (L-R) Passages: Increase permeability.Found spaces: Realise the hidden potential within blocks.New landmarks: Contemporary architecture in a historic context.

    Public Realm Improvements

    The creation of new pedestrian routes and courtyards improve permeability and links to neighbouring districts, while also alleviating congestion and increasing retail frontages.

    (L) Bedford Chambers and the Market Building.(R) King Street repaved with granite setts.

    Conservation and Refurbishment

    Historic structures, many of which are listed, have been restored and in some cases returned to their original use, and in others repositioned to have an alternative use such as residential, hotel, or retail.

    (L) Flower Cellars building: Conversion of a listed building to Balthazar restaurant and the London Film Museum.(R) The London Film Museum occupies the lower levels, below the original Flower Market Building.


    The masterplan establishes a new phase for the district, conserving the intrinsic qualities of the place while improving the visitor experience and re-balancing the mix of uses.

    Floral Court: A new destination in Covent Garden. Image courtesy of Timothy Soar.

    New Architecture

    The new architecture is inspired by the unique character that differentiates Covent Garden from surrounding areas. Its history as a marketplace and a place for entertainment is evident in its varied palette of architectural styles. The relationship to the immediate surroundings is always the starting point for our architectural studies, using color, texture, and scale to reflect the fine grain and idiosyncratic character of the area.

    Floral Court & King Street

    Floral Court is a new mixed use precinct to the northwest of the Covent Garden Piazza composed of an assemblage of contemporary and historic buildings around a new courtyard.

    This new destination immersed within the existing urban fabric is a quiet refuge in a busy and colourful part of London.

    The public realm was the starting point of the design and serves as the unifying element that knits together the different buildings and uses. New passages connect the formerly inaccessible interior of the block to surrounding routes and venues.

    Aerial view of existing site.
    Image courtesy of Will Pryce.
    Floral Street, Floral Court (left), and Carriage Hall (right, image courtesy of Timothy Soar).

    Upon emerging from a passage through a nineteenth-century terrace in King Street into the treed courtyard, visitors discover an entirely new lifestyle, retail, and dining concept unique to London. The ground floor is a continuous network of indoor and outdoor spaces including refurbished period shop fronts and interiors.

    (L) A new passage links Floral Court to the surroundings. (R) King Street: A new passage through a historic shopfront. Images courtesy of Timothy Soar.
    New and historic buildings surround a new courtyard. Image courtesy of Andrew Montgomery/Petersham Nurseries.
    Image courtesy of Timothy Soar.

    Contemporary architecture is interwoven with historic buildings of varied styles and materials, creating an environment that feels both new and completely integrated with the surroundings.

    The most prominent architectural feature in Floral Street is a vertical folly inspired by the stacked crates of the former market’s working warehouses. Facades of handmade brick and steel-framed windows were inspired by the surrounding warehouses but are distinctly modern in scale and proportion.

    A corner feature activates the view down Floral Street, conceived as a companion to the ballet bridge of the Royal Opera House to the east.
    Floral Street: The new architecture evokes the character of the surroundings in a contemporary language, with handmade bricks and steel-framed windows. Image courtesy of Brendan Bell.

    Fifty-five apartments occupy six different buildings, three of which are listed. KPF’s scope of work includes the design of residential interiors: contemporary in Floral Street with a palette that complements the architecture and period restorations in the King Street terraces. A unified basement houses a central plant, distributes utilities, and provides below-grade servicing links to the six buildings. This fully integrated model of development makes Floral Court a new model for sustainable high density living in a conservation area.

    (L) Contemporary residential interior overlooking the courtyard.(R) Open plan living space in the listed interior of a King Street terrace.
    The listed boardroom of the Westminster Fire Office refurbished as a residential reception from Floral Street. Image courtesy of Philip Durrant. Interiors by BradyWilliams.

    Floral Street

    A trio of new developments will transform cobbled Floral Street into a premium retail and residential address, including the contemporary architecture of Floral Court, the restoration of two listed buildings, Carriage Hall and 12 Floral Street, and the conversion of a former warehouse at No.11 Floral Street.

    (L) Floral Street: Refurbishment of existing buildings, new architecture, and improved public realm. (R) Carriage Hall: Conversion of a listed building to a multi-brand retail unit. Images courtesy of Timothy Soar.
    Floral Street elevation showing retained facades and a contemporary shopfront clad with decorative ceramic panels.
    New residential units with outdoor living spaces inside the block. Image courtesy of Will Pryce.

    The Wellington Hotel

    This proposal for an 80-room hotel initiates the rejuvenation of the southwest quadrant of Covent Garden and provides a new gateway to the estate from the Strand. An assemblage of six period buildings, comprising nearly the full extent of a block in the conservation area, is reconfigured to accommodate 80 hotel rooms, 2 restaurants, and a spa. Listed buildings and retained facades of merit have been knitted together with reconstructed and entirely new architectural features such as a glass-domed cupola, patinated bronze shop fronts and canopies, and steel-framed conservatories. The concept is to create a luxurious and comfortable retreat in this busy part of London that builds on the inherent variety and eccentricity of the area. Bespoke detailing and individualized room design make this a completely unique hotel property.

    A courtyard conservatory in the middle of the block connects the seven individual buildings of the property
    Image courtesy of Will Soar.

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    Project Location: Europe