Turn right from North Greenwich station and it won’t take long to stumble across a bright, yellow balloon of a building – part greenhouse, part spaceship – a transparent exterior stretched high over greenery, fairy lights, and multi-level seating.
The structure, Canteen, is the centrepiece of Greenwich Peninsula’s latest regenerative gem, the Design District. Billed as London’s coolest new creative quarter, the development sits somewhere between business district and exhibition space, with slick, zingy architecture as much part of the appeal as its affordable rates and inviting public spaces. The idea is to create a business community for London creatives, while keeping the doors open for the public to enjoy a nice place to hang out.
Canteen, as the name suggests, is the district’s central food hall - open to all and offering visitors a culinary trip around the world via six global street food vendors. Choose from Ehla, for Eastern Mediterranean (think falafel and stuffed pitta); Sugo, for modern Italian (arancini and focaccia); Guasa, which serves Venezuelan Arepas (artisan buns); Raastawala, for family recipe Kolkata treats; Eat Lah, for Malaysian rice bowls; and Toasted, for those more partial to a gourmet toastie. To wash everything down there’s also a central bar, taking you from day to night with a choice of coffee, tea, local beer, wine, or freshly-mixed cocktails.
Sidled against Canteen is another central hub, Bureau, the “engine room” of the district. “It sits somewhere between membership club and your straight up co-working space,” explains Helen Arvanitakis, Director of Design District. “It was really about trying to find an environment that was beautiful enough for you to be confidently entertaining your clients and holding meetings, but also much more affordable than other similar offerings.” Membership is long-term for now, but day passes could be a possibility in future.
Keeping costs low has created a mutually beneficial “ecosystem” of creative tenants, from bright, shiny start-ups to established heavyweights. “Beyond the totally fantastic architecture, that’s really what the Design District is about,” says Arvanitakis. “Being able to bring lots of different parts of the creative industries together and connect with one another, and find real value in that connection.”
Structured around four quarters, the layout itself was also designed to encourage a community feel. “The stroke of genius behind that is you end up with these little internal courtyards, almost like a sort of backyard for all the buildings that open onto it.”
There’s a central square, too, housing Canteen, that Arvanitakis hopes will turn into a lively venue for events. A community noticeboard is also in the works: “old school – a bit analogue. So hopefully it’s going look like one of those village notice boards, where you have years of different bits and bobs stuck in there.”
Beyond the business side of things, though, there’s plenty more in Greenwich Peninsula for visitors to sink their teeth into (both literally and metaphorically - with lots of food on offer).
“It was really important that everything feels quite visible, and there’s lots of touch points that everyone can come and enjoy,” explains Kerri Sibson, Director of Greenwich Peninsula. “The same goes for our tenants as well - we have tattoo artists and so on, so you’ll be able to come and engage and do great stuff here other than working in an office.” (Other tenants include a florist and a hairdresser, as well as a ceramicist who plans to teach out of his studio.)
Another striking pull is a rooftop basketball court, offering stunning views across the peninsula and a birds-eye-snapshot of the O2. It’s open to everyone – not just devoted hoopsters – with hopes that it could soon be used for outdoor movie nights or yoga classes.
“It’s an amazing space, and actually it’s sort of a wonderful accident,” says Sibson. “It wasn’t in the brief to the architects, but it ended up as a by-product of asking for a really efficient building” (all circulation space – stairways and walkways – are external, so the amount of rental space could be maximised).
“I think it’s going to be really popular. It’s a really great view, and you can see the other peninsula installations below as well.” She points to The Tide, an elevated linear park opened in 2019. At the moment, thanks to an art installation by Liz West, it looks like a long, straight strip of rainbow. “It takes you right down to the river front. There’s public art all the way, dotted along, and there’s a piazza on the river just there to have a drink and relax.”
Food and drink is very easy to come by, with a handful of coffee shops and bars scattered by the river, and plenty of other options inside the O2. Canteen is an obvious foodie highlight within the Design District, but smart Italian restaurant Santo also sits just on its edge, offering sleek, tasty classics.
And if you fancy a dose of culture before your meal, the NOW Gallery is only a stone’s throw from North Greenwich tube. Illustrator Manjit Thapp’s My Head is a Jungle – which sees the space transformed into a lush, leafy maze - is showing until October 31 (entry is free).
For now, there’s also more art to be found just round the corner in the Design District, where an otherwise unoccupied building (D4) has been transformed into a pop-up exhibition until October 17. Three exhibitions are spread over four floors - Vince Fraser’s Human Stories: The Afro Surrealist (an ingenious series of hypnotic digital masks), Charles Emerson’s Images of Broken Light (beautiful overlaid photographs of Greenwich Peninsula), and Lisa Wolf’s Memories of Gigabites (an intriguing interactive installation exploring texture and memory).
In other words, it’s well worth the trip. So hop aboard the Emirates Air Line, Uber Boat, or old faithful Jubilee Line, and explore London’s slickest new destination for yourself.