Along Regent’s Canal’s towpath, hidden between Camden Lock and King Cross’ Granary Square, a few architectural oddities can be found. From the late 1800s to our own 21st century, take a walk through time, where older traditional buildings blend in with the new — and sometimes become one.
Stretching for 8.6 miles just north of central London, between Maida Vale’s Little Venice all the way to Limehouse, London’s Regent’s Canal opened for the first time in 1820, enclosing hundreds of years of history. Though many of the town houses surrounding the canal — and the canal itself — are a signature John Nash style architecture, surprising exceptions can be found — all you need to know is where to look.
Reinventing Camden Town
Our starting point in Camden Lock brings us the perfect example of this intertwining between old and new. Famous for its large-scale markets, the area of Camden Town has become a well-established favourite among tourists and locals alike. As part of the refurbishing of this historical area that began in 2015 — contractor Mace’s Camden Lock Village project built a total of eight buildings, both residential and commercial alike, along Regent’s Canal’s towpath.
“We are rejuvenating one of London’s favourite visitor destinations while complementing the iconic vibe that makes Camden so unique” - Mace’s project sum-up.
And complemented they have. The Camden Lock Village buildings possess one particular specificity : terracotta baguettes. Specially made with glazed terracotta to resemble traditional red bricks, these baguettes adorn the building’s entire exterior facade — an attempt to blend in this new modern architecture with the traditional English red brick buildings already in place.
Such tradition can be seen with the Interchange Building of Camden Lock — an immense building entirely made of red bricks, dominating the north side of the Lock. Designed as a strong Victorian style building, it was meant to bring together canal, rail, and road transports in one unique covered area.
Futuristic pod flats
Our next step along the canal takes us to Nicholas Grimshaw’s unique set of flats right behind Camden Town’s Sainsbury’s shop — also designed by the same architect. Built in 1988 as part of the modernist movement, this particular building registers itself within the high-tech style.
These futuristic, sci-fi looking pods — known as the Grand Union Canal Walk Housing — are entirely built out of industrial materials in an effort to reduce the building costs and blend in with the neighbouring supermarket. Using bus windows with curved corners, aluminium panels for the facades, Grimshaw’s style manages quite surprisingly to bring an industrial aesthetic into a domestic situation.
Keep walking along the towpath, and after passing many red bricked buildings, their arcades, and ancient columns brushing against shiny modern glass buildings — a surprising mix to see — you will fall onto King’s Cross’ famous gasholder buildings.
The area around St Pancras and King’s Cross has changed massively in recent years, creating both a huge apartment block and a park, built into the impressive iron framed gasholders. These iconic structures were originally built in the 1850s and remained in use until the late 20th century, to finally be decommissioned in 2000.
Gasholder park’s iron frame once stood on the opposite bank of the Regent’s Canal and held over 1.1 million cubic feet of gas, standing as the largest of the gasholders that once dominated King’s Cross’ skyline. The park, erected in 2015, was designed by Bell Phillips Architects. It’s next door neighbour building, by Wilkinson Eyre, welcomes 145 luxury residences with generous private balconies or terraces with views across the capital.
Standing as a perfect representation of the marriage between contemporary architecture and Victorian engineering, these gasholder buildings are the incarnation of the old London transitioning into a new London.
So, next time you take a walk along Regent's Canal, don’t forget to look up !
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