Kunsthalle plans for Peckham deserve London's support
Southwark Council must embrace this bold vision to transform Peckham forever, writes Rory Olcayto
Last year I devised a charrette for six architects to create new ideas for sites across Peckham. Each site – which included the multi-storey car park that hosts the Bold Tendencies sculpture gallery each summer – was identified in the Peckham and Nunhead Area Action Plan.
Alongside participants Duggan Morris, Pie, BDP, Robin Lee Architecture, Konishi Gaffney and Lee Marsden with Ben Adams, we invited Councillor Fiona Colley and Southwark’s design and conservation manager, Michael Tsoukaris, to provide feedback at the end of the one-day event. Design Council CABE chairman Paul Finch came along and so did Patel Taylor co-founder Pankaj Patel, who had made proposals for one of the sites 20 years before.
Among the ideas produced were Pie’s plans for Peckham Rye Station, Robin Lee’s live/work block at the south end of Rye Lane and Konishi Gaffney’s idea to extend the cultural activities of a local landmark, the Bussey building, by adding more storeys. Duggan Morris reworked the Aylesham Shopping Centre into a food distribution and restaurant area and BDP proposed housing for Eagle Wharf. Marsden and Adams reworked the car park as a centre for art and health.
At the time, Colley said: ‘I hope the work you do today will contribute to “making it happen”.’ Later Tsoukaris added: ‘The challenge for the council is to take these ideas, run with them and see how far we get.’
Yet the charrette’s content and vision would have been very different were it not for Hannah Barry. The curator, whose influential gallery next to the Bussey (set to move to a bigger venue alongside the station very soon) has worked for several years to consolidate Peckham’s reputation as a vital centre for the production and enjoyment of the arts. Most significantly, her imaginative use of the multi-storey car park as an arts venue has attracted more than half a million visitors to Peckham since it began in 2007. It is one of the most important developments in London’s urban design since Tate Modern transformed the South Bank 13 years ago. It is no surprise that Nicholas Serota is a fan. And it is no surprise that Jay Jopling relocated his White Cube gallery from Shoreditch to Peckham’s neighbour Bermondsey.
I’d lived in Peckham for a number of years before I realised how good Bold Tendencies was. It was the 2010 show. From the top deck of the car park, filled with thoughtful, provocative, and sometimes beautiful artwork, the views of London’s skyline were the best I’d seen: a townscape elevation encompassing Battersea Power Station and the O2, with the emerging Shard in the middle, shimmering in the haze. And, all around, people, some local, most from elsewhere. The Overground line from Dalston had opened that year. That must have had an impact. But so too did the excellent restaurant. A 10-page AJ feature followed soon after.
If you’ve ever been, you’ll know how good Bold Tendencies is. It is why Barry’s new proposals, to develop the car park into a Kunsthalle-style venue are so exciting. As AJ reported, Barry’s £10 million plan would see the building reinvented as a centre for visual art, film, dance and music. It’s a long-term vision creating 180 new full-time and more than 100 part-time or temporary jobs. The transformation of Peckham’s car park would outdo the impact the High Line has had on New York. It will change your view of London forever. That’s why Barry’s plans are deserving of your support. Yes, Mr Tsoukaris and Councillor Colley – I’m talking to you.