With luxurious modern bathrooms, spacious open-plan living rooms and panoramic views across the city, 333 Kingsland Road sounds like any other pricey block of high-end flats. Except that, where you might normally find sunloungers on a neatly landscaped terrace, this one has a “mud kitchen”. That’s because, rather than a private gym, cinema or other aspirational concept of the kind used to sell such developments, this London high-rise comes with the joyful chaos of a primary school attached to its base.
After five long months of no school, it is a nice surprise to hear the sound of (safely bubbled) playground games in full swing, and glimpse kids fooling around on the deck that hovers above the street. You might expect such a tower to have a swanky concierge at its base, but there instead you’ll find the school reception. Meanwhile, the roof of Hackney New Primary School is given over to planters for each class to grow their own food and get mucky with mud. It is a welcome reminder, in a world increasingly devoted to overpriced apartments for young professionals and foreign investors, that cities are for children, too.
The unlikely pairing was one of necessity. It would be nice to think that a primary school could just be built on such a site, across the road from its sister secondary school, no questions asked. But such is the capital’s superheated property market that the Education Funding Agency was forced to cough up £16m to acquire the site, meaning that a tower of 68 luxury flats had to be built to pay for the £23.5m school, delivered as a joint venture with the Benyon Estate and developer Thornsett.
To make matters more perverse, the site had long been home to a fire station, so the money was simply paid from one public body to another. And, because of the vastly inflated land value, the possibility for any “affordable” flats was ruled out by the viability assessment in the process. In the eyes of the planners, the presence of the school was deemed sufficient to tick the community benefit box (along with a £1.5m contribution to affordable housing off site).
At the time, Labour councillor James Peters wrote to Labour-controlled Hackney council warning that the plans were “a travesty, a mockery of the council’s policies and an insult to people throughout the borough”. Local MP Meg Hillier also wrote to then education secretary Justine Greening, urging her that this was “a golden opportunity to deliver both a school and homes for teachers”. But the viability assessment said no.
Against this compromised backdrop, the architects, Henley Halebrown, have done an admirable job of making the forced marriage seem like a natural pairing, as if a primary school at the base of a tower block was as normal as a Tesco or a Costa. Not only that, they have designed the tower in such a way that it feels less like a cruel imposition to be grudgingly tolerated because it makes