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Cooke Fawcett and Bold Tendencies reach new heights with the Peckham Observatory

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The arts organisation adds another architectural delight to its offerings

Bold Tendencies, now something of a Peckham institution, has once again extended the offerings of its multistorey car park home with the ‘Peckham Observatory’, a kiosk and viewing deck by Cooke Fawcett Architects. It is the latest in a series of architectural commissions for the arts organisation, founded by Hannah Barry, beginning with Frank’s Cafe in 2008 and the Straw Auditorium in 2011, both by Practice Architecture, as well as My Museum, an exhibition space curated entirely by children. 

A young firm formed in 2015 by former Herzog & de Meuron architects Oliver Cooke and Francis Fawcett, Cooke Fawcett was first commissioned by Bold Tendencies in 2016 to create an acoustic wall on a lower level of the car park where classical music concerts are held. They were again approached when the entrance to Bold Tendencies was moved from the eastern side of the car park to the west (due to Southwark Council wanting to use the lower levels for workshops and restaurants), meaning visitors arrived at what Cooke terms the ‘forgotten end’ of the space. The new project is therefore both an arrival point - an important punctuation mark for the space - and what is envisioned as a flexible viewing, seating, perhaps even performance space.

Cf 123 pr 006 170706 observatory peter landers

Cf 123 pr 006 170706 observatory peter landers

Source: Peter Landers

In this sense, while it is called the observatory the space bears more resemblance to a pier, offering an effectively 360 degree view of London as well as a new perspective on Richard Wentworth’s permanent installation Agora and the temporary summer installations on the level below - currently giant replicas of Trafalgar Square’s lions by Ewa Axerals and hairy lampposts by Isaac Olvera. The new platform sits above a kiosk that will provide a much-needed space for staff, information and a box office.

The 3.5m-wide raised platform spans the entire width of the car park, its steel support beams cantilevered at both ends. Two staircases at either side provide an elevated promenade and on the northern tip the balustrade position at the half-landing provides unencumbered views of London. The deck and steps are made of full-width mandioquiera hardwood decking, and three areas of custom-designed benches and sun-loungers are also planned. Timber handrails on the upper level are angled to provide natural places to lean, and above these L-shaped steel sections provide a resting place for drinks.

Cf 123 pr 009 170706 observatory peter landers

Cf 123 pr 009 170706 observatory peter landers

Source: Peter Landers

A far cry from Simon Whybray’s bright pink staircase through which visitors enter, the project has opted for a sludge green, something more in keeping with the car park’s existing materials as well as the surroundings, so as not to challenge the artist installations. ‘We wanted it to look more infrastructural - the idea was that visitors might think it has always been there,’ says Fawcett. The kiosk has been painted dark blue and resembles a building-site cabin, with a view to replacing its wooden shutters with something more permanent in future.

The new structure has been achieved on a very low budget (£70-80,000) as Bold Tendencies took on the project management itself and worked with local suppliers and contractors, making this a thoroughly Peckham endeavour from start to finish.

Cf 123 pr 020 observatory elev 200dpi crop

Cf 123 pr 020 observatory elev 200dpi crop

Section

Architect’s view

For an avant-garde cultural institution now in its 11th year, it is important that Bold Tendencies retains the capacity to reinvent and present new experiences to its loyal following as well as to new visitors.

Francis Fawcett, director, Cooke Fawcett

Project data

Architect Cooke Fawcett Architects
Client Bolt Tendencies
Structural engineer AKTII
Steelwork Tara Fabrications
Timber Whitten Timber
Paint Johnstone’s Trade

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