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New public realm schemes signal ‘feet first for the City’

New public realm projects aim to rejuvenate the City of London and open up the district for pedestrians, reports Jessica Hannay

The streets and public areas of the City of London are facing major re-development. 

The aim is to transform public areas across the City; softening, enhancing and unifying them. From street to public plaza, the area is set to receive a makeover geared at transforming it into a ‘permeable city’.

Located in the heart of the capital, the City of London is the historic core of the metropolis.  Its boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages when the City’s wall was the full extent of London.

Today the City is a major business and financial centre, with 350,000 workers and 12,000 residents. Now the City of London Corporation wants to give back some of the city to the pedestrian.

Victor Callister, assistant director of environmental enhancement at the corporation, said: ‘Almost 98 per cent of people moving around the City are pedestrians. [It] seems crazy therefore, that so much prominence is placed on the car.

‘The City is the most densely packed area of London and we need to respond to this ever increasing factor if we are to keep people working here, rather than New York or Zurich.’

Delivering Sustainable Streets is a programme developed by Callister’s team which follows on from an extenuation of the City’s 2002 ‘street scene challenge’.

The scheme ‘enhances the public realm and facilitates the flow of pedestrians and vehicles around the City’.

The idea is to use a neutral palette and ‘unfussy’ design language to re-landscape pockets of the City, improving permeability, opening up the area for pedestrians and enabling buildings to ‘breathe’.

Townshend Landscape Architects project to re-landscape the St Mary Axe and Undershaft vicinity. View looking towards Great St Helens church

Townshend Landscape Architects project to re-landscape the St Mary Axe and Undershaft vicinity. View looking towards Great St Helens church

Townshend Landscape Architects planned project to re-landscape the St Mary Axe and St Andrew Undershaft vicinity exemplifies the approach and aesthetic, it is claimed.

 ‘We intend this project to bring together all the many ideas featured in our smaller projects’ says Callister.

With the expected arrival of KPF’s Pinnacle (May 2012) and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners ‘Cheesegrater’ tower at 122 Leadenhall Street (mid 2014), London’s ‘densest area’ is set to become denser.

The new buildings will bring a total of 13,000 more workers into the zone while at their closest point the buildings will be only 5 metres apart. Currently, the area feels disjointed and lacks the unity to cope with these levels of people, it is claimed.

Townshend’s design improves circulation around the existing buildings, replacing the concrete and tarmac floor surface with York Stone and introducing new planting to the area.

The scheme features three outdoor artworks which are set to rotate every 6 months.

Callister explained: ‘The surrounding corporations have a real commitment to the arts; you only have to look into their foyers to see this, with fine art, sculptures and ceramics on display.

‘We cannot yet reveal who the artists are, but believe me, they’re good’.

The first phase of the project is due for completion in 2013 at a cost of £1.9 million, with total project cost estimated at £7.3 million.

St Paul’s Cathedral bus depot project by Townshend Landscape Architects, Arup and Project Centre

St Paul’s Cathedral bus depot project by Townshend Landscape Architects, Arup and Project Centre

A further project in the pipeline is the £2 million redevelopment of the St Paul’s bus depot. The design is collaboration between Townshend Landscape Architects, Arup and Project Centre and is due for completion in 2011.

Situated at the front of St Paul’s Cathedral, the bus depot currently ‘detracts’ from the experience of viewing and navigating the building.

The new design relocates the depot to the north of the Cathedral and re-landscapes the area with new planting and seating areas.

Further projects include a scheme to implement 50 water fountains around the City. The fountains are designed so passersby can refill their water bottles reflecting the City’s ‘commitment to people’s needs’.

While the initiatives are on a small scale and arguably of little notice to pedestrians, this in some ways demonstrates the programme’s success.

It is only when you go to the City’s non-redeveloped areas – such as the junction at Bank tube station – that one realises the effectiveness and importance of the work.

The programmes commitment to the City and its people is commendable. It fails to shy away from making tough decisions that cannot please everyone, staying true to its emphasis on the pedestrian and the ‘unpicking of the City’. The subtle and effective designs make the City a pleasure rather than a trial to manoeuvre.

Plan showing relocating for buses

Plan showing relocating for buses

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