Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Silicon Roundabout?

The much lauded silicon roundabout is an almost mythical place, located at the junction between City road and Old street it’s synonymous as an entrance to one of London’s more creative quarters gentrified to a degree and now branded ‘East London Tech City’ by the present Governments pr machine. The idea is that as the entrance to London’s answer to Silicon Valley we will witness a tech city from Hoxton to Stratford further east.

Ok so this is lovely and an acknowledgement of the success of entrepreneurialism in the area but someone seems to of forgot about the epicentre of all this creativeness, old street roundabout itself.

The roundabout’s location like many of London’s roads has become a thoroughfare for cars with people precariously placed around it edge. At its centre is Old Street tube station which to some who have travelled through it feels more like decrepit bunker of confusing ramps and tunnels designed keep you ‘in’ rather than exit.

 By its nature as an ‘underground’ station way finding has never been its strong point, in fact I cannot think of any strong points apart from feeling so run down and awful that it’s almost become part of the experience.  Above the roundabout are inaccessible green spaces hosting a range of tired looking plants, protruding air vents and an apparent ‘urban sculpture’ above.  If you are lucky enough to find the exit, past the inbuilt shopping precinct ( if you can call it that) the five ramps leading you out of the station are mostly open  to the elements apart from the south east entrance where we are treated to an ungainly architectural folly, but why just this ramp, does it not rain on the other four?  

Around the periphery of the roundabout some urban renewal has occurred, Tonkin Liu’s Promenade of Light is a brilliant exercise to show perhaps the future of Old street and how it could be. Unfortunately it ends there. The masterplan was to include the roundabout itself but because of the bureaucratic nature of local governance nothing has happened since.

Development around Silicon roundabout is undergoing a transformation not through any initiatives but purely because of the locality and development potential this area has. There are many schemes in the pipeline that are either a precursor to the future of the area or a terrible mistake. A mix of hotels large scale residential and office buildings all bringing differing improvements to the area depending on your point of view. 
Hoxton has always been a place of surprises and small scale enterprise but the increasingly large developments are perhaps ignoring the reason why the place works. The nature of the place is very old London and should be kept as such to preserve this very reason.

What is sad is that the spin by the Government mentions very little about urban improvement or for that matter how degraded old street roundabout really is. Words need to be turned into reality, dreams into the physical. Relying on private enterprise alone is not enough to bring business to an area you need to commit investment to bring investment. Silicone roundabout really is a dream rather than a reality.


  1. Old Street underground is a wart and a carbuncle and we've had to live with it for 30 years. Something Must Be Done. Can we tear down that patronising "sculpture"?

  2. Have you seen this plan by London design/strategy firm, Architecture 00:/ and Spacestation?

    The building they're proposing includes a large enclosed public space; social innovation workspace; and a faceted facade as a vast, programmable advertising board... reminiscent of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district.

    Pretty much the opposite of a shiny glass building, more like a city-within-a-city.

  3. Hi Richmonde, I agree it's an eye saw I'm not sure JC Decaux would be happy if that 'sponsored' sculpture went ha.
    Hi Debbie ,I have seen that proposal funnily enough posted a day after this post. I think it's somewhat missing the point and little opportunistic, I don't think a building like this is appropriate or will actually resolve the issue's old street has. Thank you for your comments though.