When I told a native Londoner that I was moving to Archway two years ago, they repsonded with an unusual level of honesty. "Archway is the place you go to get everywhere else, right?"
He was, to an extent, correct. Archway, perched at the top of the Holloway Road in north London, is really just one giant junction; a square roundabout that sends you off in every direction to other, fancier places. The Over- and Underground stations, and a baker's dozen worth of bus stops, make it a Tesco megastore of transport links. Its other defining feature is a giant, 16 storey Gotham-esque tower, done up in black marble, casually referred to by the Islington Gazette as one of London's "least-loved buildings".
But even in the time I've lived there, Archway has begun to fidget under its less-than-complimentary reputation. Slowly but surely, developers, plus local businesses and government, are conspiring to ensure that within five years, it will be effectively unrecognisable. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is a topic for another day. But for now, the ways an area seems to transform itself, all at once, are worth examining. After all, it could be your neck of the woods next.
Step One: De-Gothamise that tower.
I’m not sure even the most dedicated of Brutalism affecionados could hold a candle for Archway Tower. In fact, I'm pretty certain they don't, because the recent disappearance of its black frontage seems to have gone largely unnoticed among the architectural community.
The building, once used as government offices, was bought from owners by Essential Living in 2013, having lain vacant for two years. Under rules in place at the time, converting an office block into flats meant you could bypass affordable housing minimums.
So Essential Living have gone about gutting the building, leaving only a concrete skeleton. Soon, they'll carry out their makeover; cladding it in a sort of peach-coloured metal, to make it look less, well, terrifying:
Step Two: Get rid of the traffic.
Last year, TfL opened consultations on plans to transform the Archway gyratory. (That's apparently the offical term for square roundabout-type things.) Post-consultation, they've released more up-to-date plans. Here they are:
Click for a larger image. Image: TfL.
It's a little complex, so here's the lowdown. The peach coloured area was once road, and formed a major artery from the traffic-clogged Holloway road towards Finchley and points north. Now, that direct route will be cut off, which should do something to alleviate the number of cars in the area. Instead, that area will become pedestrianised, bisected only by one of several new cycle tracks. It all looks rather nice:
Especially when you consider the fact that at the moment, that view looks like this:
Step three: Create somewhere for the middle classes to live.
Essential Living is planning to develop the tower into 184 flats, which will probably be a combination of studios, and one and two bedroom flats. None will, as far as I can tell, be socially rented. The plan is to have a concierge, and communal areas at the top of the tower.
Scott Hammond, Essential Living’s managing director, says the flats are aimed at local young professionals:
We’re creating homes built from the ground up for rent, with professional management aimed at anyone seeking a better value renting experience. It will appeal to many people who already live in the area.
The building is designed to encourage community living with a range of amenities and social spaces. Our ambition is that your home begins and ends at the door of the building, not the door of the apartment.
The area is already populated by lots of young working professionals (like myself, in fact), looking for slightly cheaper rents. But, inevitably, the various measures around the tower will presumably push those rents up, so you'll see an influx of slightly-better-off professionals. It also doesn't seem that there'll be much room in the tower for families.
Step four: Pubs out, cafes in.
Someone who was a resident in the 1990s told me that Archway was once known for its raucous Irish pubs, and occasional fights between ex-IRA members. I can't say that's still true, especially as the well-known Irish pub near the station, The Lion, recently shut down. The only clue as to why lay in a few bright purple pieces of paper lined up across boarded up windows, reading "TREATS CAFE SHOP". The chain, which sells sandwiches and snacks, will presumably be aimed at commuters heading to the station in the morning.
Step five: Loyalty cards.
One problem with Archway's self-image lay in its residents' psychogeography. Its location amid other, slghtly better-off places means residents a little north of the junction might say they're from Highgate, or those to the west might think of themselves as living in Tufnell Park. Seemingly to tackle this, local businesses under the Archway Town Centre Group have come up with the "Archway Card", which offers you discounts at local independent businesses around the junction.
The ATCG, meanwhile, has a clear remit:
[We're] working in partnership with Islington Council to create a thriving town centre at Archway which is clean, safe, accessible, with a diverse retail mix.
So there you have it. The results of this type of regeneration (or gentrification, depending on your point of view) can be hard to predict: unexpected sections of the community can benefit, especially if more jobs pop up in the area.
But one thing's for certain: house prices will start climbing up to match the surrounding areas. Ah, well. It was good while it lasted.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was corrected shortly after publication. It originally stated that Archway Tower was listed. It is not. Thanks to Douglas Murphy for pointing this out.