North London’s Warehouse District: Gentrification’s Last Frontier?

North London’s Warehouse District: Gentrification’s Last Frontier?

Harringay Warehouse District might have built its reputation on an underground party scene led by an iridescent cast of creative lodgers but, as plans are set in motion to build a gleaming new pavilion on the area’s grotty fringe, we ask what the future holds for this little-known, alternative enclave in north London.

most people, it looks like nothing more than an urban dust
bowl skirted in steel, but this 30m x 10m patch of wasteland on the
edge of Harringay’s warehouse district in north London is currently
hot territory being fought over by 166 architects from across the

The brief was simple: to design a pavilion, a new kind of public
space inspired by the uniqueness of warehouse life. “We thought
we’d have maybe 10, 15 or 20 applications,” says James West, one of
the project’s organisers who plans to announce the winner in the
coming days. As with so many creative initiatives that take root in
Harringay’s notorious warehouse district, “it was just intended to
be some fun”.

It was back in 2018 that he and his friends, Carolina and Joe,
first came up with the idea of building Tottenham’s answer to the
Serpentine Pavilion, the big-bucks stalwart of London’s social
calendar where the world’s most influential art doyennes hobnob
each summer to a mellifluous soundtrack of tinkling champagne

Thom Corbishley
Thom Corbishley

Photos by Thom

James, Carolina and Joe’s pavilion was never going to be quite
as lustrous. They weren’t interested in hosting a
celebrity-spangled launch party, welcoming high-profile artists or
generating media buzz. The pavilion of their dreams was one whose
architecture represented the prismatic cast of characters that call
Harringay Warehouse District home and could act as a public forum –
“an alternative kind of public space” – where those in and around
the warehouse district could come together.

So it was that in 2019, with one of those plasticky garden
marquees, a pocketful of cash from the Greater London Authority and a
handful of workshops devised by warehouse lodgers, the Tottenham Pavilion project
first sprung to life. It was a success. Curious to meet the
neighbours, a steady trickle of people living in the council-built
megaliths that loom over the warehouses’ rippling rooftops, came to
take part in workshops on embroidery, creative writing, sculpture
and a handful of other crafts. With appetites stoked for the real
thing, James and co. quickly set about laying the groundwork for

“The workshops were done in a very warehouse-y way,” says James,
looking back. “We said ‘spend the day playing together and see what
happens’. It was very reflective of how so much happens in the
warehouses. There’s no agenda; it’s just play.”

Two design proposals for Tottenham Pavilion. The Broomstick
Pavilion by Andre Enrico Cassettari Zanolla and
Architectural Services, and Interlock by Charlie Harris, Finbar
Charleson and Matt Gabe.

Until recently, “just play” was the most common reason for
visiting. For the most part of the 20th century, these warehouses
were hives of industry that churned out pianos, high-end furniture,
clothes, shoes, sweets, tableware, printing inks and all manner of
electrical tidbits. When businesses started relocating from
Harringay in the 80s, the husks they left behind turned out to be
ideal canvases for thrill-seeking party animals to manifest their

Ever since squatters first moved into the warehouses, illicit
parties have proven a stealthy propaganda machine for the district;
James himself was first lured there by a rollicking great bash in
2007. “We arrived in the dead of night,” he recalls. “It was a
great party, in a great space. I loved everything about it, but I
left quite drunk and had no idea where it was. It stuck with me for
about a year.”

Unable to shake the memory of this creative enclave and its
enchanting constituents, he started seeking a warehouse of his own.
After asking around – “this was before Facebook ads and Gumtree
listings,” James is quick to add – he eventually picked up the keys
to a scantily outfitted old textiles factory and quickly set about
refashioning it.

Photos by
David Jorre

“Early on we used telegraph poles to construct a three-tiered
lounge for a party,” he says, “and we liked it so much that we kept
it as our lounge for about two years.” This hodge-podge approach to
home improvement is a common theme in the area’s architecture, and
the results provide a neat visual metaphor for the warehouses’ own
jumbled histories. “The area isn’t top-down or bottom-up, it’s a
bit left and right at the same time in terms of how it’s
developed,” says James.

For Becki Irving, a 29-year-old civil servant originally from
Brighton, it was the community feel of this micro-civilisation, so
rare to find in London, that first attracted her to Harringay when
she moved four years ago. “I don’t think I could have moved to
London and not lived in the space that I’m in,” she says, before
painting a picture of her day-to-day life that could have been
lifted from the battered diary of a blitz-era cockney.

“It’s the type of place where you end up knowing your
neighbours, you have a key to each other’s houses, you share
dinners together, things like that just from the off”. A woman in
the adjacent warehouse walks Becki’s dog Dexter, neighbours stop by
unprompted for chit-chats and, when she’s not working, she keeps an
eye on the warehouses’ shared allotment where punky-haired
beetroots and tufty carrots peer out from zingy planters cobbled
together from discarded furniture. “It’s really lovely,” she

But is it all a little bit too lovely? Harringay is just a
swerve off the A10, a road which starts in Shoreditch and winds up
in Tottenham, ploughing through the delectably alternative
playgrounds of Dalston and Stoke Newington en route. It’s safe to
say that gentrification has scored some hefty roadkill along this
thoroughfare over the last decade or so, with local residents
outpriced by young professionals and accusations of ethnic
cleansing – a subject hot on everyone’s lips as protests against
systemic racism rage across the globe.

Photos by
David Jorre

As the spores of gentrification have edged northwards, artisanal
cafés and stone-baked pizza ovens have started cropping up in
Harringay. “Just play” was enough of a reason to visit a decade
ago, but recently the area’s cultural credentials have attracted
luxury property developers determined to build glassy shelters in
the sky for those who’d rather “just live”. Local initiatives like
the Tottenham Pavilion project raise awkward questions: where does
artistic expression end and gentrification begin?

Photographer Thom Corbishley spent the last two years as a
warehouse resident. His photography from that time presents the
district’s less palatable corners with a cinematic, almost
pornographic, varnish. To him, plans to build an experimental new
pavilion aren’t proof of innovation but of history repeating

“If one cares about preserving or maintaining the warehouse
community, stuff like this will be the end of it,” he says.
“Warehouses along the canal near Shoreditch are now penthouse lofts
for bankers while warehouses in Hackney were knocked down and
turned into new privately-owned housing developments.”

Photos by Thom

Given the district’s fragile relationship with the council,
Thom’s concerns aren’t without reason. The warehouses narrowly
escaped the wrecking ball in 2013 when the council, hitherto
unaware of the community living there, stumbled across the spaces
and declared them unfit for habitation. After a protracted tussle
with the council, they achieved legal status as live-work spaces in
2015 and the residents won their right to stay.

It was a triumph, but tensions still exist between a council
under pressure to map out the area’s future development and an
ephemeral contingent of warehouse lodgers who prefer to take each
day as it comes.

One of the district’s biggest advocates is Shulem Askler, the
landlord who owns a majority of the warehouses. He isn’t a
party-weary warehouse veteran or a placard-toting anti-capitalist,
but a member of the Hasidic Jewish community in Stamford Hill. At
first glance, it seems strange that a man with ultra-conservative
values – from a community routinely called out in the press for its
insularity – would take such an interest in preserving this cradle
of alternative living, but his faith in community and family has
kept the warehouses alive, says James.

“Whenever we do anything in the area, the first thing he asks me
is ‘how will this benefit those living in the warehouse community?’
Everything comes back to how it will benefit the community

Photos by
David Jorre

James doesn’t mince his words: gentrification is inevitable.
“The minute you move into an underground area that people don’t
really know about, you’ve started the process [of gentrification].
It’s about controlling the curve of gentrification; you don’t want
it to end up too shiny. Things like improving access and
coordinating bins and rubbish collection – these small nuances
matter quite a lot to people’s lives,” he says frankly, “but what
we’re asking is how can you gentrify it in parts or gentrify bits
you want while maintaining the character and voice?”

The pavilion project is bold, some might say delusional, in its
ambition to side-step gentrification and the questions it raises
are pertinent. Today, the plot remains an eyesore that cowers
behind a tangle of wild ivy on this less-trodden corner of London.
Depending on the outcome of the project, next year it’ll be frothy
with vegetable tops, piled high with thousands of disused umbrellas
or sparse but stately like an ancient Greek agora from millenia
past, all being well. But beyond this, who knows what the future
will hold?

Will James’s words – “it was just intended to be some fun” –
fall silent among the glassy edifices of luxury developments? Will
a cereal café have sprouted among the warehouse cracks? Or will the
area remain unchanged, legally protected even as a site of cultural

For now, as with most aspects of life during a time of
coronavirus, escaping the present to a more hopeful future is just
what the doctor ordered.

The Lowdown

Click here for more
information about Tottenham Pavilion.

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