Old Street Roundabout Re-Visited: 5 Inspiring Proposals

Islington City Council has recently announced the longlist for the upcoming renovation of ‘The Iconic Gateway‘ at Old Street, London. The longlist includes incredibly creative design solutions by world-renowned architects and designers for the site in the middle of the vibrant neighborhoods Shroderitch and Hackney.

On Islington City Council’s website are several documents explaining the project brief, the constraints, as well as the 39 longlisted proposals. There is a public vote (until 2nd of March) on which project should be chosen for the iconic location.

The brief explains that the futile roundabout at Old Street is to be transformed into a peninsula-public square that represents the creative spirit of the neighborhood. There are several stationary structures on site: the underground entrance, the ventilation shafts, the clerestory roof, and the advertising screens. With the requirement to integrate these elements into the design, the brief is quite a challenging yet equally exciting one.

The proposed designs represent a huge range of unconventional ideas from creating a digital replica of Stonehenge to building a tower of plants and event venues.


A New Old Street: Where Promenade Meets Playground by shedkm, Uniform, BCA Landscape

shedkm, Uniform, BCA Landscape. “A New Old Street: Where Promenade Meets Playground”, Islington.gov.uk Proposal 01

‘A New Old Street’ is a proposal for an adult playground at the roundabout. The project incorporates the existing structures at the public square into its design, transforming them into interactive elements. The ventilation shaft becomes a display of data about the underground, and the roof becomes ornated with 4 geometric volumes offering views of the 4 sides around the roundabout. This playful proposal surely portrays the spirit of innovation in an energizing, light-hearted manner, but does it have the potential to elevate the everyday experience?

Although the separate units that compose the project are very well thought out and beautiful in design, they don’t really create a holistic landscape. The fragmented nature of the playground feels more like temporary pavilions built for a design festival than a public square. Realistically, the residents of the area would interact with each object once and then the pieces would simply become a part of the colorful background they walk past every day as tourists and children play around.

Therefore, A New Old Street is an urban playground that fails to go beyond, into the realm of becoming a public square that promotes communal interaction.


Silicon Circus by HCL Architects

Old Street Roundabout is also known as the ‘Silicon Roundabout’, a reference to the tech industry in Silicon Valley in California. Although this allusive nickname may seem appropriate, I find it unimaginative. Naming a place that is home to such innovative, creative companies after a place that already exists is almost like surrendering to the leadership of American tech industry.  Therefore, I would propose renaming the project ‘Silicon Circus‘.

HLC Architects. “Early evening CGI image – Approaching Silicon Circus from the Promenade of Light.” Islington.gov.uk Proposal 02

Akin to its uninspired name, the project itself fails to offer a form that represents the innovative nature of its location. Silicon Circus is only one of many very similar projects proposing a circular hovering advertisement structure with various programs in the inner arch.


Right: Dar, Perkin + Will. “Old Street Circus 2050” Islington                                                                                                                                                 Left: JaK Studio Ltd. “Comm.on” Islington


In spite of the unoriginality of the form, the program of the inner circle is quite innovative and potentially effective. The space inside is designed to be adaptable to different uses for various public or private events and thus integrates well with everyday life. Especially utilizing the inner circle screens for showcasing movies with seating on the existing clerestory roof is a brilliant idea.

HLC Architects. “Silicon Circus” Islington.gov.uk

The hand-drawn diagrams that represent the design process and concept are quite noteworthy as well. The simplicity and clarity of these drawings are certainly exemplary.


HYDROPONIqA by GRID Architects

GRID Architects. “Hydroponiqa” Islington.gov.uk Proposal 39

As suggested by its name, Hydroponiqa is a proposal for a public park with a tower of hydroponic plants and event spaces. The concept is based on the idea of providing a ‘break out space’ for the city residents: a scenic place to work, chat, eat, and de-stress. The tower is described in almost a utopic way, as a place to experience the scenic views of the city from above without the noise and the pollution.

Formed of a public park expanding vertically upwards, Hydroponiqa is certainly one of the more unusual proposals. Although the idea of a green skyscraper sounds invigorating, it is difficult to ignore the fact that no matter how green this building is, it’s going to have a presence in the skyline and congest an already overcrowded part of the city with more density. With all due respect to the originality of the proposal, it may be more effective if sited in a different location, perhaps as part of a larger greenery not surrounded by three massive motorway arteries.


The Stone Circle by D*Haus Company LTD

D*Haus Company LTD. “View approaching Old Street Station” Islington.gov.uk Proposal 37

The Stone Circle‘ is probably the most bizarre proposal out of all 39 longlisted projects. The team is suggesting to build another Stonehenge in the middle of the city, at Old Street Roundabout. The idea is to underscore the ‘historical importance and hedonistic atmosphere’ of the neighborhood by building the most hedonistic of meeting places, Stonehenge.

The juxtaposition of the stones in the tech-driven site is supposed to formulate an inspirational public square, yet what it delivers instead is a confusingly anachronistic bricolage that can only exist in the virtual space of a computer screen.

In addition to its unrealistic concept, akin to Silicon Circus, the project fails to deliver an original proposition. Instead of using Stonehenge as a starting point for the design process, the firm seems to have skipped the designing and gone straight to placing the raw idea on site.


Lover’s Knot: at Light’s Edge by Intervention Architects

Intervention Architects. “Lover’s Knot” Islington.gov.uk Proposal 09

Formed of a multi-level rotunda and a collonade of arches inspired by Queen Mary’s Tiara from 1908, Lover’s Knot is the perfect combination of elegance, simplicity, and practicality. The proposal is based on the idea of creating a defined green leisure space tucked away from the busy city life around the peninsula.

The arches to be constructed are a certain type of metal that promotes the growth of plants around the structure. Therefore the whole design is going to be covered in climbing plants, generating a beautiful green crown. Focusing on constructing a space for the community that appeals to people of all ages, Lover’s Knot is one of the very few designs that push technology to the backstage to focus on human interaction.

Not only the simplicity of the concept of Lover’s Knot but also the presentation of the proposal is extremely compelling. The color scheme based on pastel blue and red create a lovely image with a comforting feel. The illustrative drawing style contributes to the casual, energizing, and welcoming atmosphere depicted. Needless to say, this is my favorite proposal out of the 39 longlisted designs.


Overall, as an architecture student, reading about the proposals for Old Street was not only fascinating because of the uniqueness of the projects but also because it gave me a chance to view how presentation documents are formatted for real-life projects.

Although the internet is overflowing with drawings, diagrams, and images, it is rather difficult to distinguish the amateur ones from those created by professionals. Hence, the council documents provide an excellent source of inspiration for architectural drawings, concepts, and presentations.

In the comments below, let me know what you think about these mind-blowing projects! Which one fulfills your fantasy of a public square at the tech headquarters of London?


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