Floral Court is an assemblage of contemporary and historic buildings around a newly-created courtyard in Covent Garden, and an outstanding example of how long-term investment leads to positive placemaking. The project has improved the public realm and created valuable new pedestrian connections – the scale of the passages and spaces was informed by close observation of human behaviour patterns, creating a new destination that has a genuine and enduring sense of place.
Floral Court brings a new mix of living, leisure and retail space to the area, bringing life and 24-hour activity to the western end of Floral Street. At its heart, the courtyard forms a coherent and thriving public realm with attractive retail and restaurant facilities, around which 45 new apartments are arranged in a collection of new, listed and historic buildings. This dynamic precinct adds a new layer of contemporary design to the historic urban fabric, while respecting and preserving the wider heritage of the area, and provides residents, visitors and businesses with new and much needed pedestrian connections alongside exceptional new public space.
Floral Court was developed by Capital & Counties (Capco), who acquired the Covent Garden Estate in 2006, and designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF). Together, Capco and KPF have enabled Floral Court to emerge naturally, thanks to an in-depth analysis of Covent Garden and its potential for enhancement, as part of a wider masterplan for the area. Their work has focused on three main areas: improvements to the public realm, conservation of heritage assets and the replacement of a non-contributing building with high-quality contemporary architecture.
Prior to redevelopment, Floral Street was dominated by a bulky 1980s office building that sat uncomfortably within its conservation area setting, offering a dull presence and forming an impermeable block that limited connections in the area. The contemporary building that has replaced this office respects the traditional architectural expression of the area and the site’s historical significance, with facades composed of handmade brick and steel-framed windows. Where Floral Street turns a corner, a collection of tall bay windows forms a prominent landmark, completing the long view from James Street to form an architectural dialogue with the Royal Ballet’s ‘Bridge of Aspiration’ further along Floral Street. Conceived as a ‘building within a building’ this feature recalls the stacked crates of the Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market and forms a prominent shopfront at street level. Internally, window seats and study spaces to the apartments above offer long views down the newly enlivened street.
The highlight of Floral Court is the central courtyard – formerly an inaccessible service yard – where KPF’s skill in bringing together new and historic buildings to form a stylish public space is most apparent. The level of this courtyard was raised to be halfway between King Street and Floral Street, allowing for step-free access into a valuable new space that knits together the diverse elements of the overall scheme. Beneath this collection of new and old buildings, KPF has unified basement levels to house a central plant and servicing area for the homes, shops and restaurants above.
A key objective of this courtyard was to enhance the shared residential amenity space and facilities, and to create an enjoyable place for those in the local community to live, work and relax. Stepping through the discreet passages leading from either street, lined with picture shop windows, pedestrians are greeted by a pretty oasis away from the rush and noise of the surrounding city. Its granite sets and kerbs are softened by mature trees and planters, while tables spill out from the London flagship store of Petersham Nurseries which overlooks the courtyard and further animates the space with two restaurants, an artisanal homewares store and traditional Italian delicatessen. Above the courtyard, the balconies, terraces and rooftop gardens of the surrounding apartments form steps, recesses and setbacks that respond to the urban grain. This is further enhanced by the juxtaposition of historic and contemporary façades, and splashes of colour and texture from high-level planting. New bronze gates and handrails at the courtyard’s entrances pick up details from a listed balcony on King Street.
The scheme has reintroduced residential use to the upper storeys of the Grade II-listed, Georgian Terrace on King Street. The new-build apartments, marketed as The Floral Court Collection, are accessed from Floral Street via a beautiful entrance building that re-uses the listed former boardroom of the Westminster Fire Office. A redundant substation has been stripped away to create this entrance allowing the building to breathe and forming a small garden entrance that replaces a scruffy and jumbled earlier streetscape. Great care was taken in bringing the building back to life, and its fine period features have now been revealed and restored to form a stunning entrance to the apartments above. Within the apartments themselves, contemporary interiors use a colour palette that references and complements the period architecture of the King Street terrace.
Critically, by opening routes from the new courtyard to Floral Street and King Street, Capco, in partnership with KPF, has created a new and much-needed north-south pedestrian connection for residents and others through what had previously been an impermeable block. Particular skill has been employed in inserting a new passageway inconspicuously into the listed King Street terrace, and both new entrances share a noticeably comfortable, human scale.
Brian Girard, Design Principal at KPF:
“Floral Court is an assemblage of old and new, a contemporary layer woven into the historic fabric. Our intention was for Floral Court to serve as a sustainable model for regeneration in a conservation area.
“We considered the site as a whole, explored opportunities to enhance this particular block and investigated how these interventions would in turn affect the wider area. We looked at every level, from the small scale, such as the restoration of a heraldic crest, to the creation of an entirely new public space.
“The courtyard is both a new pedestrian route through the city and a refuge from the busyness of Covent Garden’s main thoroughfares. We analysed historic passages in the district to set the human scale of the entrances to this space.
“At KPF we’re proud of the work we’ve done with Capco in Covent Garden to transform the area and, with our office located just around the corner, we enjoy the improvements on a daily basis.”