These proposals for Abney Park Cemetery have been under development for a considerable time and in principle are to be welcomed as a means of improving this valuable recreational resource for Hackney. We have benefitted from consultation on-site with the architect albeit somewhat late in the development of the plans.
Whilst we recognise the broad level of support for these plans, we have a number of reservations about the detailed proposals and call into question the balance between the harm to the heritage asset and an apparent overarching business case which attempt to ensure the Cemetery appeals to the broadest range of possible commercial uses. We feel a more focussed, heritage-first approach might well have been equally viable and led to fewer interventions.
Abney Park Cemetery plays a dual role in the life of Stoke Newington both as an historic asset with the fine collection of listed buildings and monuments and as recreational and leisure destination offering outdoor space and woodland walks for the local population. The design proposals need to better acknowledge this link and span the gap between the historic and the contemporary.
The opportunity is there for a unique fusion of these differing worlds but to achieve that would need an overarching vision for the place that informs and controls a consistent palette of materials and detailing across all the new additions. The proposals at the moment do not come close to achieving this and manifest as a disparate collection of pragmatic, localised design choices made with more concern for appeasing the requirements of the various stakeholders and delivering a business plan, than with developing an overall vision. None of the proposals – at a detail level in particular – reach the standard of thought or resolution required by the historic setting and the requirements of listed buildings.
1 Church Street Entrance
We acknowledge the benefit of ramped access to the cemetery at this point but question the need for two ramps. The ramp construction is excessively bulky at a pinch-point where the pavement is already limited and further reduced by the bus stop.
Two ramps has led to an overall width of 1500mm for the ramp so people can pass in two directions. However one ramp to the west and stairs to the east (as Landscape report option 2) would mean most people would use the steps and the ramp could be reduced to 1200mm width thus preserving the pavement width and relieving congestion around the bus stop.
The importance of symmetry is overstated given this is a modern intervention. An asymmetrical solution is both acceptable and, if implemented with a lighter touch, preferable in that it would differentiate the contemporary additions from the historic setting.
As proposed, the appearance of the new ramp at present is lumpen and lacking in finesse. The proposed utilitarian handrails are particularly unfortunate. The raising of the ornate entrance gate to accommodate the ramp gives it extra prominence which further accentuates the poor detailing of the new railings. Details should be reserved for future consideration.
The additions of the toilet blocks to the Chapel are problematic. The relative scale of the two blocks compared to the Chapel results in weedy and insignificant additions. We have reservations about the proposal to have outside space between the toilets and the chapel. The resulting narrow gap will inevitably become damp and uninviting. The glass canopies will inevitably have moss growth and dirt and the security grilles between chapel and toilet block are insufficient to prevent anti-social behaviour.
Again, an arbitrary desire for symmetry is driving the solution and is unnecessary not least because the Gothic style has plenty of precedents for asymmetrical additions. Two significant interventions into the chapel fabric to facilitate access to the toilets seems excessive and is driven by a desire to maximise rental opportunities. Thought ought to be given to combining the facilities into a single, more significant block with sufficient mass to stand next to the main building and with a possible link to the chapel interior. Such a facility would also have the benefit of being practically usable during events.
3 East Entrance (Stamford Hill / Stoke Newington High Street)
The proposed removal of most of the existing entrance railings in the forecourt is regretted. These reflect the original layout of the Victorian forecourt (see Booth funeral photographs) and were designed to be substantial, site-specific installations with a strong presence and using high quality materials. The notion that the existing railings and bollards form a barrier to the Cemetery preventing people entering is overstated. They are only in need of decorative restoration and the proposed replacement with mediocre ‘off-the-shelf’ skinny bollards is unnecessary.
We find the proposed palm trees in the forecourt particularly regrettable, bordering on ludicrous. It is an over-literal and obvious response to the Egyptian style of the front railings and brings an irreverent, jaunty, holiday-vibe that is entirely inappropriate to the Cemetery setting.
4 North Lodge
We have reservations about the elevational treatment of the proposed North Lodge extension. The historic listed gate lodges are delicate and sophisticated designs characterised in particular by the sloping of the walls that gives them a monumentality and gravitas appropriate to the funerary location. The attempt to reflect this character in the new buildings but in a stripped down, ‘modern’ style – i.e. no sloping walls or other details – is a mistake that will lead to the new extension looking clumsy and diminished in comparison. Similarly the proposed use of ‘pre-cast concrete’ cladding fills us with foreboding and runs a great risk of looking second rate when placed directly next to the Portland stone of the lodges. In-situ samples should be secured by condition. The proportions of the openings in the new facade also look awkward in relation to the older neighbour.
The junction between the new building and the historic North Lodge is not acceptable – forming a thin sliver of space between the new and old walls (which will taper due to the slope of the lodge wall) and compromising the independent reading of the Lodge itself. This will be exacerbated by the collision of stone and concrete materials and by the proximity of the proposed metal notional cornice and the Lodge.
We want to see more thought put into these facades. For instance there are disparities between the 3D views and the elevation drawings in particular the metal cornice is missing from the 3D views. The elevations show no indication of joint lines in the precast concrete paneling or how wide the joints may be but there is an indication of this in the 3Ds where the top fascia panels end at the corner of the windows not mid pier as one may expect. The size of the panels as indicated on the 3Ds run the risk of looking very crude when compared to the joints in the Lodge stonework. Consideration should be given to an entirely different expression to the cafe section of the facade, maybe with a lighter glazed construction that could help resolve the junction with the listed building.
In addition, we find the proposed cafe overspill use for the existing Lodges unconvincing given the relative lack of oversight from the main cafe space. These spaces might find a more practical alternative use.
Finally, we would like to see a management plan secured by condition, that ensures all outdoor furniture, signage and other paraphernalia is properly stored out of sight when not in use and the park is open.