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Milton Keynes. How you feel about it might say quite a lot about your taste, or your general outlook. It’s unlikely you’ll have no opinion on it, due to the fact it’s a shining (literally in terms of many of its buildings) example of the UK’s attempts to create bold, futuristic new towns in the heady optimism of the late 1960s. In short, ‘MK’ is a heroic anomaly.

It’s a hard landmark to ignore in the recent history of UK urban masterplanning, a sprawling US-style grid of houses and typically clean-lined steel municipal and commercial buildings. However it’s also connected by and integrated with an awful lot of landscaping, so much so that when driving around the multitude of roundabouts, there’s a chance that all you might see is trees.

It became a cliche to mock MK for those roundabouts and an alleged artificiality – plonked in picturesque Buckinghamshire – personified by the famous ‘concrete cow’ statues. Recently however, the town is being seen in a new light, with many of its concepts being seen in the reemergence of ‘garden cities’ in several district development plans. Milton Keynes has always been feted by architects thanks to not only its fresh thinking on planning, but also its Mies van der Rohe-inspired shopping centre. Designed by Derek Walker in the mid-70s, it’s a simultaneously grand and restrained, light-filled steel structure, as elegant as shopping centres get.

The new gallery building which adds to, and greatly enhances the existing MK Gallery, is a great tribute to t he town, emulating the gridded style of the shopping centre in a playful way. The architects 6a also visually connected it to the adjacent park in brilliantly simple ways, cutting a huge circular hole in the side, and aligning openings so you can see right through the building to distant trees.

We proudly present this project as one of our two reports in this issue; it stands out as an optimistic and very British building, at what is undoubtedly a time of consternation and self-examination for the UK.

The other scheme we cover is slightly less of an eye-catcher, but has its own USPs that made it a worthy selection. Quadra in Hackney, designed by PRP, is not quite retirement living, but not quite normal resi either. This smart brick form is for the over 55s with a difference, they don’t want to leave the vibrancy of the big smoke just because they are downsizing.

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It shares with MK Gallery the architects’ keen focus to connect the building with its nearby landscape – in this case the popular east London green space of London Fields. Designed for a housing association, the building has spacious apartments with dual or even triple aspect, keeping residents connected with the outside world.

We are proud to cover buildings like this, that deliver a sense of joy by making the most of their surroundings. They are examples of designers working hard to give users the best experience possible.

James Parker Editor


ON THE COVER... MK Gallery by 6a Architects is simple, but precisely crafted building. The new building has been clad in vertically corrugated stainless steel, providing a shimmering effect.

MK GALLERY, MILTON KEYNES 6a Architects’ shining steel tribute to Milton Keynes keeps a simple connection with the landscape

QUADRA, HACKNEY Desirable parkside residences for London downsizers

For the full report on this project, go to page 29. Cover image © 6a architects



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