Turning our boozers into Assets of Community Value
Urban regeneration is forever the sticky topic. One person’s gleaming neighbourhood improvement is another’s loss of authentic character and community. We collectively moan when we encounter crumbling infrastructure and underinvestment, yet regularly view schemes that upgrade and develop the city with suspicion, hostility even. Nobody seems completely happy with the inescapable truth that a metropolis is an ever-changing space. Perhaps it is an uncomfortable reminder of the impermanence of our own lives when we see our beloved areas morph before our eyes?
One intriguing way to disrupt this regeneration doom loop is being explored by Vabel, a Kentish Town-based company who take a refreshingly holistic approach to the complex business of construction and redevelopment. Founded by long-term friends and local residents Daniel Baliti and Jeremy Spencer, their vision was to pool skills and create a full-service model that brings architecture, contractors, project and construction managers and interior designers all under one roof.
“Typically, most new apartments are created by residential developers who outsource the design and construction processes,” explains Jeremy, over coffee at their Highgate Rd office. “The problem with this is that ideas can be lost in translation and details missed, while the living experience can often be forgotten.”
The duo are passionate that everything they put their name to not only offers brilliantly executed living spaces, but that the building intrinsically enhances the area where it’s located. From Daniel’s work at his family’s construction business to Jeremy’s experience as an interiors architect working in global hospitality, they felt the solution to overcoming some of the classic poor outcomes was to bring the whole start-to-finish process in-house, now attended to by a growing team numbering 40+ people. It allows Vabel to be fully invested in the realisation of their properties to a degree that’s often missing in the more soulless developments we’ve all looked up and tut-tutted at.
That engagement with their projects extends beyond obsessing over the build quality and the sleek finish, to carving out a deep investment it every location they build. At the foot of Haverstock Hill, the company took on a completely new build site located opposite the historic Roundhouse. It was an opportunity to do more than stick up an apartment block, and the resulting building clearly embodies the firm’s disruptive approach.
“That section of Chalk Farm is a mixed bag,” says Jeremy. “The architectural quality of the street scene is limited, with patchy retail and various considerations like the scale of Haverstock School, the busy tube and the Roundhouse, so we wanted to deliver a building with carefully considered character that would enhance the area. At Vabel we are driven by our genuine passion and desire to create design-led homes that are beautiful to live in. It’s important that quality is both inside and out and can be experienced by the wider community as well as the residents. And high quality needn’t mean overly expensive or environmentally unsustainable either, as our whole model is about optimising our skills.”
Drawing on the area’s eclectic history and architecture, Vabel Haverstock’s white façade, sculptural shapes and minimalist curves, are a striking presence on the streetscape and brings a modern classic to the familiar streets.
Over in Kentish Town, Vabel took on development of the former North London Polytechnic building when the previous developer went bust mid-build. They inherited an iconic centrepiece of the high street, as well as a long-standing planning promise to deliver a brand new cinema space, too. Here, the goal was to repurpose a historic site both sympathetically and effectively. “We loved that the project involved the meticulous restoration of the period façade, plus the chance to enhance the high street by opening up the ground floor to the community,” says Jeremy.
The challenges of a global pandemic and geopolitical economic ripples have meant the project has been slow to finish, but the search is now on for an operator to run the cinema and cultural space, which has the acoustic separation and other elements required already in place. “We’re intent on making sure the space delivers more for Kentish Town Rd than just another pizza restaurant,” says Jeremy of the final piece of this project. “We’ve built everything at Vabel Kentisston for the long term, so that didn’t mean just going to the easy sustainability wins, it meant building something that’s going to be a cornerstone of the area for the next hundred years and beyond.”
As a demonstration of the importance of both the Kentisston and Haverstock developments at the heart of their respective areas, Vabel have become a key partner in bringing Secret Feasts to both parts of Camden.
“It’s lovely to have the opportunity to work together with the Camdenist to support local businesses and high streets in the areas that we live and work,” says Jeremy. “We’re particularly proud to be supporting a platform that helps locals to come together to engage socially, too.”
As they move on to their next sites in Seven Sisters, Blackheath and Queensway, the team look forward to continuing the positively disrupt the construction process, invest in their locations, and demonstrate that urban regeneration can be done differently. In the process, they are delivering high quality livable homes that have genuinely sustainable credentials at their hearts.
While some arguments about the changing face of cities will never be agreed, it’s exciting to have innovation taking place here on our doorsteps.
Turning our boozers into Assets of Community Value
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