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Case Study: Clerkenwell


Clerkenwell is a neighbourhood in the borough of Islington near the city of London. In the past it has been home to breweries, artists and a varied and unique community. This VivaCity2020 case study focuses on an old brewery building, Allied Domecq, which was opened in 1746. It is now a mixed-use development, consisting of private flats, housing units, offices, and public and semi-public spaces. It is an excellent example of a mixed-use development, and VivaCity2020 looked in detail at the urban design decision-making process which lead to the final results of the scheme. A number of policies and groups influenced the development, including the 1986 Unitary Development Plan, Planning Policy Guidance 1, the planning brief, the City Fringe Initiative, and the Clerkenwell Neighbourhood Forum.



From March 2005 – September 2005, VivaCity2020 gathered information about the Allied Domecq site from a number of sources, including:

  • Interviews with two former case officers of Islington Borough Council who were heavily involved in the Allied Domecq development, two architects, two members from a public housing group, the owner of housing on the site and a past owner of the site (an estate agent / developer).
  • Minutes and reports from Islington Borough Council
  • Reports from VivaCity colleagues about Clerkenwell
  • Local and national documents on planning policy and sustainability.

A detailed timeline was produced, outlining the development process in detail from 1988 to the present day. This can be found in greater detail in the Case Study Document.

Urban Design Decision-Making

Thirteen stages of the urban design decision-making process can be found from the timeline, separated into three time periods. The stages correspond with the major decisions made over the timescale, which helped to shape the site.


Period One: 1995-1998

1) Creating teams, appraising the situation and forming objectives (1995-1998)

  • Sandalbeech Ltd bought the site in 1995. They then created their team by engaging the services of an architecture firm.
  • The firm appraised the site and the surrounding area and identified the requirements of Islington Borough Council, developing an extensive understanding of the context of the Allied Domecq development.
  • Objectives for the project were developed, including the aim to build a mixed-use development.

2) Designing the development and submitting the report (1998)

  • The architect firm consulted with stakeholders and decision-makers to see if their ideas fit with the ideas of others.
  • Objectives were communicated with Islington Borough Council, and designs were worked on with the planning officer.
  • Planning applications for the site were submitted.

3) Evaluating and selecting a plan

The planning division of Islington Borough Council had to evaluate and select a plan, granting outline planning permission.

Ten goals were developed in the design strategy:

  1. High quality environment
  2. Area to be integrated with wider Islington for residents, businesses and visitors
  3. A balanced and sustainable economic community was to be provided
  4. High standards of housing providing for special needs were to be integrated into the affordable housing
  5. Safe, attractive and accessible public spaces
  6. New business opportunities
  7. A balanced and integrated transport strategy
  8. Shopping, leisure and cultural facilities
  9. Improve the streetscape by using quality materials, lighting and street furniture
  10. Enhance the character and appearance of Clerkenwell with sensitive architectural design and good development of listed buildings.

4) Implementing a new plan (late 1998)

Outline planning permission was achieved and the owner sold the property. This had an impact on the design direction, with a new team and new objectives.


Period Two:1998-2000

1) Creating teams and forming objectives (1998)

The new owner meant that a new team would be formed, and would create a new design. An international architect was hired, who formed new mixed-use objectives.

2) Modifying objectives

After the 2000 dot-com bust, the new owner had lost of a lot of money and thus another set of objectives were formed and plans had to be modified.

3) Implementing a new plan (2000)

The part-owner sold the residential section of the Allied Domecq site to a home designer and developer. The new owner meant a new design direction.


Period Three: 2000-present day

1) Creating teams, appraising the situation and forming objectives

The new owner began work and assembled a team. An architect firm were chosen to design high quality residences and provide maximum profit.

2) Designing the development (2000-2001)

The office and residential sections of the development were designed, Stakeholders and decision-makers were consulted and the project was analysed and critiqued.

3) Adding to the team

Landscape architects joined the home designer’s team, along with an affordable housing provider.

4) Submitting a report (Sept 2000)

The application for full planning permission was submitted.

5) Evaluating and selecting a plan

The planning division of Islington Borough Council were responsible for evaluating and selecting a plan for full planning permission. The tools and resources used to evaluate the planning application included a design strategy and planning brief for the site, use of the “Ten Design Commandments,” discussion with client teams and visits to the local community.

6) Implementing and monitoring

January 2001: the planning application was approved, the designs implemented and the construction phase began.

2003: most of the construction was finished. A questionnaire was dispatched to residents and a review meeting conducted. At the review meeting the findings of the report and feedback were discussed. Monitoring of the shared ownership and social housing accommodation started, and continues to the present day. The private residential part of the site undergoes monitoring every 3 months.



The urban design decision-making process for this site demonstrates many decisions, many decision-makers, stakeholders and issues, which has resulted in a colourful development history for the Allied Domecq site. The site has seen three owners and three different designs since the 1980s, along with the dot-com bust. Good relationships between developers, architects, designers and the local community have resulted in a smooth development process, leading to a well-designed scheme in unique surroundings.


But is it sustainable? According to the interviewees, the Site has both pros and cons. Some of the sustainable advantages include:

  • Near to public transport.
  • Car-free (has underground parking only).
  • Bicycle storage.
  • Close to the City.
  • Close to retail.
  • Mixed-tenure (tries to engender community).
  • Mixed-use (living and working in the area).
  • Permeable.
  • Situated within an economically sustainable location.

Some of the disadvantages that make the Site less sustainable include:

  • No retail within the Site.
  • Little concern for the environment or energy savings in its design.
  • No gardens to help create social cohesion.
  • Located near a housing estate (security concerns).

Only time will tell as to whether the Allied Domecq Site is truly sustainable. People and policies will continue to change in the area, creating new ideas and challenges.


ToolsHouseClick here for a full copy of the Clerkenwell case study (Microsoft Word document, 7.4mb)

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© Images Copyright Andrew Wooton 2008

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