The Scene – Walthamstow: Review

Opinion piece
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The Scene has arrived in Walthamstow in east London. The striking mixed-use development, designed by Pollard Thomas Edwards for developer Hill and housing association ISHA has delivered restaurants, a cinema and 121 new homes in the suburban town centre. These uses are wrapped up in a stunning six storey architectural landmark that flirts with the future.

The scheme opened last year, and development of this site was long overdue. It had been temporary public space for several years while redevelopment attempts failed. As the London Borough of Waltham Forest started to draw up its Area Action Plan for Walthamstow, the need for a regeneration catalyst on the corner of High Street and Hoe Street became acute. The vacant site might have given developers a carte blanche opportunity, but the council was prescriptive with its needs. The council wanted a housing-led, mixed-use development that activated the space and delivered entertainment and leisure. It was also adamant that a cinema should be incorporated into the scheme as a way of reigniting the town’s evening economy.

The Scene is a blueprint for successfully executing town centre mixed-use development. The complexities of the brief have been overcome by embedding the cinema below ground level, freeing up the street level for restaurants and the upper floors for housing. This innovation allowed the architects to rigidly follow the brief and to create a town centre destination.

The Hoe Street frontage is cleverly broken up by a rippling wave design, which adds interest and variety to the street scene. The High Street façade offers rigid, straight lines, while the building’s well-articulated corner responds to the junction’s other corners, albeit to a more severe angle. Balconies wrap proudly around this corner, although those overlooking the High Street appear dark and cramped, offering views but little else. The use of reflective glazed brick slips on the facade affords the development an air of shimmering modernity, a brave departure from its surroundings and solidifies the scheme’s landmark qualities, cementing its place as a focus for activity.

Setting the development back from the High Street building line has allowed The Scene to open onto a new public space. Street activity is provided by restaurant terraces, activating what had previously been a transit space. Improved street greening and the provision of benches have furthered this transition from space to place, successfully overcoming the location’s shared-space nature and lack of clear definition.

As the first tangible evidence of the Council’s town centre regeneration, The Scene is like a glimpse into the potential future of Walthamstow. But the scheme is a success today reshaping Walthamstow’s evening economy, delivering new homes, a landmark new building and public space. It is a testament to the opportunities of mixed-use development. The scene in Walthamstow has most definitely changed.

Julia Beyer is an Urban Designer at Tibbalds. Christian Lapper is an Urban Planner at Tibbalds.