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Bunhill 2 Energy Centre is a world-first scheme that uses waste heat from the Tube to warm homes, leisure centres and a school in Islington, London.

Bunhill 2 Energy Centre

The revolutionary Bunhill 2 Energy Centre – the first of its kind in the world – provides a blueprint for decarbonising heat in potential future schemes in London and around the world, reducing heating bills and carbon emissions while improving air quality and making cities more self-sufficient in energy.

Moreland Primary School pupils (one of the schools to benefit from Bunhill 2) star in an eye-catching video explaining how the new technology works

Climate

The new energy centre uses state-of-the-art technology on the site of a disused Underground station, once known as City Road. A huge underground fan extracts warm air from the Northern line tunnels below. The warm air is used to heat water that is then pumped to buildings in the neighbourhood through a new 1.5km network of underground pipes.

The energy centre and new pipework adds a further 550 homes and a primary school to the existing Bunhill Heat and Power district heating network and gives the system the potential to supply up to 2,200 homes. The heating bills for council tenants connected to the network will be cut by 10 per cent compared to other communal heating systems, which themselves cost around half as much as standalone systems heating individual homes. 

In addition, the two-metre fan, installed in an existing six-storey London Underground mid-tunnel ventilation shaft, can also be reversed to help with cooling the Tube tunnels in the summer months.

Design and Access Statement cover - inspired by a 1920s London Underground poster.

Context

The design of Bunhill 2 “celebrates the necessary.” The project team explored how a new language of civic industrial architecture could begin to define this new typology of heat networks, just as Joseph Bazalgette had revolutionised the design of the public water systems in the 19th century and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott celebrated the design of the utilitarian phone box in the 20th century.

This small, neglected but prominent site at a junction on City Road was full of disparate clutter, including the forlorn ventilation shaft of the former City Road Underground station, smothered in advertising hoardings and fly-postings, a shabby brick substation and left-over patches of space between. Signs, lamp posts, CCTV cameras etc milled around the site in a chaotic fashion and all was dwarfed by the surrounding towers. It also had many physical constraints including below ground voids, the need to maintain access to the shaft and sub-station, and proximity to adjacent dwellings.

Consulting extensively with the local community, Planners and local Councillors, Cullinan Studio’s approach was to organise the new elements with the existing features to create a well-composed assembly of prefabricated structures, clad in attractive materials and set in an enhanced landscape. Key moves were made to minimise the visual and environmental impact on adjacent residents and using principles of good urban design, the architecture was composed to echo existing building lines, strengthen street edges and redefine the street corner.

The Bunhill 2 site is next to the intersection of three roads.

Creativity

A palette of robust materials was selected to be resistant to graffiti, knocks and scratches, with lustrous black glazed brick and charcoal vitreous enamel steel panels for the ground level, selected for their association with the site’s transport heritage and commonly found on London Underground. Cullinan Studio worked with artist Toby Paterson whose cast aluminium relief panels tesselate across the base and provide his contextual response to the local community.

Artwork by Toby Paterson represents a quiet celebration of the often overlooked and occasionally undervalued everyday infrastructure that defines so many Londoners’ lives.

The rich, dark copper coloured metal cladding to the upper storeys accommodates a perforation pattern that ebbs and flows in response to the varying degrees of ventilation required for the equipment behind; providing dynamism and transparency to the façade. Growing in scale as they rise up the energy centre they evoke the invisible networks below ground; whether these are pipes for district heating, underground tube lines or thermal air currents.