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CABE and residents slam Gensler's Thames river park

Design Council CABE has attacked a proposed kilometre-long floating park scheme for the Thames designed by Gensler

Despite backing for the project from City mayor Boris Johnson and majority funders Venus Group of Singapore, the design watchdog said ‘significant issues’ still needed to be addressed and branded the eight spherical biodome exhibition pavilions ‘unimaginative and corporate’.

DCCABE’s review panel also criticised the ‘park’ concept, sustainability and visual appearance of the floating structure which, if approved by planners, would stretch from St. Paul’s cathedral to the Tower of London on the north bank of the Thames

It said: ‘We are not convinced that the detailed design of the park landscape, comprising concrete seating, steel and glass pavilions, large deciduous trees in containers and substantial planters, is appropriate to the character of the river.’

Sources told the AJ that it was unlikely the scheme will be substantially altered following the comments.

A spokesman for the London River Park said: ’76 per cent [of vistitors] at the most recent public exhibition backed the plans. As many of their comments are based upon a pre-application consultation we would be happy to discuss any of the specific points raised by CABE with them directly.’

More than 200 people have already commented on the proposals (click here for full list) including Graham Morrison of architects Allies and Morrison who has written on behalf of the residents of Clink Street, just south of the Thames.

Morrison said he was ‘very concerned about the proposals which have not been properly thought through’ and represented ’an unwelcome intrusion into the character of the river’ (read full letter here).

In May, it was announced that the project would receive £60 million in funding from asset managers Venus Group. It is understood a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the London River Park company and the London Mayor in a deal that will see 30 per cent of net revenues raised through the commercial operation of the River Park shared with the Mayor for the public benefit.

The designs won the Best Conceptual Project category at the London Planning Awards earlier this year.

Ian Mulcahey, principal and global head of planning and urban design at Gensler, said: ‘CABE’s letter is based upon the panel review which was drafted before the application was submitted.  It is clear from their comments that even though the panel chair undertook a subsequent desk review the panel haven’t reviewed the full application submission, which is unfortunate. 

‘We are very pleased that they support the concept, however, a little surprised by their own additional concept proposals (see below).’ 

CABE’s design review panel’s full comments

11/00505/FULEIA

This is our formal response to the planning application. We support the concept of a temporary park on the River Thames; it has the potential to be a significant asset to the City of London during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and 2012 Olympic celebrations. However, if this project goes ahead we find there are significant issues that need to be addressed, prior to a temporary planning permission being granted, to make this project a success. Further thought should be given to the overriding concept of the project, the design quality of the structure and its impact on the historic setting, the detailed landscape design, access and servicing and the impact upon ecology and archaeology. We also think sustainability should be more prominent in the design of the scheme.

 

Concept

We are not convinced by the description of the project as a ‘park’ the structure appears more akin to a pier or walkway. We suggest that a ‘river grandstand’ could be an evocative description given the project will be a new concept for London and is likely to introduce the City to a global audience through television broadcasts and media coverage. The project brings to mind the High Line in New York, which has a clearly defined purpose and nature of experience.

We suggest the design team take inspiration from the High Line

The High Line is truly a grandstand where you obtain long views up cavernous streets and watch the activity of the city below. We suggest the design team take inspiration from the High Line, in order to further develop the identity of the river park, its role and function within the city, the nature of the visitor experience and how the design of the structure, the landscape, planting and furniture can combine to create a complete concept through which it will be known and promoted, while also bearing in mind that the structure is temporary and so will need to be viable over a short period of time.

Visual appearance

The River Thames in the City of London is an exceptional location and we think the project would benefit from bringing the rich character of this location into the design, including an understanding of its relationship with the listed setting and ensuring the structure does not detract from the historic character of the riverside. The structure should be striking the materials distinctive and the detailing unique. The materials should reflect the structure’s temporary nature and should promote sustainable design.
We are not convinced that the detailed design of the park landscape, comprising concrete seating, steel and glass pavilions, large deciduous trees in containers and substantial planters, is appropriate to the character of the river.  The visualisations of the structure as it would appear against the backdrop of the city at high and low tides and during the day and at night reinforce these concerns.  In addition, the piles appear to be very prominent and we think they interfere with the integrity of the structure, especially at low tide.  Whist we appreciate there is a substantial tidal difference on the river; we question whether they need to be as tall as indicated.
The local planning authority should also be satisfied that the impact of vessels hitting the structure has been sufficiently considered, and any necessary fenders or protection barriers do not detract from the visual appearance of the scheme and the historic setting. We also consider it inappropriate for any crumple zones in the structure to be accessible to the public.

Pavilions

While we understand the intention for the pavilions to be a backdrop to the primary focus of the park as a walkway, attention in the drawings and images submitted is focused on the pavilions. As currently designed the pavilions are unimaginative and corporate in appearance. We suggest they should be more open, entertaining and fun in nature. Instead of pod like structures, canopies could be used, or a single covering that connects a series of enclosures. We question the height of the pavilions and suggest that lower structures would be more appropriate.  In particular we think pavilions P1 and P2, with angled roofs, are too prominent and disturb the view of the north bank of the Thames, detracting from views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge. We also wonder what the pavilions will look like from above, when viewed from the riverbank, will they appear as enclosed shells with activity taking place inside that no one can see, or will activity be visible to people passing by on the river bank. The design and fabrication of the pavilions should be considered as this will impact upon their visual appearance, for example the degree to which joints are visible. If planning permission is granted we urge the local planning authority to secure the use of high quality materials and finishes via an appropriate condition. Thought should also be given to different scenarios of occupancy, for example as exhibition space compared to corporate event space.

Access and servicing

The description ‘park’ gives the impression of free access; however we question whether this will truly be the case. When events are taking place in the pavilions, will access and freedom of movement be restricted to other visitors. Crowd control is also an important factor, infrastructure will be necessary on the existing riverside walkway to accommodate the significant number of people that are likely to visit. Consideration should be given to the visual appearance of these structures, their size and height and whether they will impinge upon pedestrian movement along the riverside walkway.
In addition, the ‘back of house’ servicing, in particular in relation to the pavilions, should be integrated into the design from the outset and closely managed during operation. Catering paraphernalia and refuse could easily pile up and look unsightly and facilities, such as changing rooms, toilets and plant rooms could be required in relation to the proposed swimming pool.

Sustainability, ecology and archaeology

Sustainability should be a prominent part of the design to demonstrate best practice; however this is not apparent in the design. Given the structure’s temporary nature, we welcome the intention that all elements are designed to be reused.  We also suggest thought be given to the use of recycled materials in the construction. We question the sustainability credentials of the pavilions when occupied.  Given the prominence of glazing in their design they are likely to overheat and rely on mechanical cooling and ventilation to provide a comfortable environment.  The local planning authority should also be assured that the structure will not have a detrimental impact on the ecology and archaeology of the river to ensure that the project does not have a detrimental impact on this unique site.

 

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