Evening Standard architecture critic and former director of the Architecture Foundation discusses the competition's background; the competition brief and an introduction to the competition's jury
The good design of public space is much talked about and rarely achieved. It is a particular challenge to an architect or designer, as it lacks the comforting fixed data of a building brief, such as schedules of accommodation or the resolving of structural issues. Many of the architect’s usual tools, such as the manipulation of plan or form, are unavailable. The definition of success or failure is more elusive, but it is plain when either appears in the finished project.
Public space, even more than other architectural projects, works itself out over time. Maintenance and use matter as much as the fixed elements. Design is as much about leaving alone as about transformation or addition. Design can improve, and suggest possible futures, but not prescribe or impose.
The Architecture Foundation/First Base Amelia Street competition offers the potential for an exceptional piece of public space design. The area is almost, but not completely, perfect. It has a character unlike anywhere else, generated by its living and working communities, which themselves grew out of the site’s history and are supported by a dense architecture of blocks and courts.
But there are obvious ways that the area could be improved. It has an under-used park on one side, and streets blighted by bins and clutter. Here, designing public space is not a question of warding off disaster – the area would continue happily with no change – but taking the chance to make it even more special.
The primary purpose of this competition is to help realise that potential, but also to give opportunities to designers, including those who might not otherwise be offered a project such as this, and to create an example that could inform other projects elsewhere. By holding a competition, we support all these aims, and increase the chances that new ideas might be brought to the sometimes limited range of thinking about public space.
Lastly, an important point: the competition is about choosing a designer and not a design. We have asked for proposals as evidence of the entrant’s thinking and qualities, but the winner’s scheme will, and should, evolve as the project progresses.
• The competition called for the transformation of the public realm on Amelia Street, adjacent to the Pullens Estate in the London Borough of Southwark, designing street and pavement surfaces, thresholds and lighting, planting and signage, rubbish bins and cycle racks.
• Entrants were required to consider a range of conditions bordering the street: fences, barriers, a railway arch, large residential frontages and vehicular access routes.
• The following five schemes were shortlisted by the jury following an anonymous first stage. Each firm will now be interviewed by the jury, which will then select a winner.
• London Borough of Southwark will work with the winner to implement the design.
• The competition is funded by a Section 106 agreement for the First Base Printworks development, adjacent to Amelia Street.
Rowan Moore Architectural critic (chair)
Eleanor Purser Regeneration manager, Homes and Communities Agency
Caroline Pidgeon Ward councillor, London Borough of Southwark
Diana Cochrane Secretary, Pullens Tenants and Residents Association
Jan Taylor Deputy headteacher, Crampton Street Primary School
Todd Strehlow Public realm manager, London Borough of Southwark
Ciaran Quigley Community development manager, First Base
Stephen Witherford Director, Witherford Watson Mann Architects