Architecture PLB has designed a community facility for Walthamstow that deters vandals without imposing a defensive aesthetic, says Tom Ravenscoft
Travelling to the final stop of the Victoria Line on a bitterly cold day to trudge around a park in Walthamstow was not how I wanted to spend my afternoon. However, when I arrived I was encouraged to find Lloyd Park bustling with activity and I was just in time to buy a cup of tea from the pavilion I had come to visit.
Named in honour of its benefactor, Frank Lloyd, the park was gifted to the local authority, along with the childhood home of William Morris, in 1898. Although well-used, the 100-year-old park had slipped into a run-down, confused state due to successive alterations and adaptations, combined with poor maintenance and vandalism. A £3.48 million Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund grant awarded under the Parks for People initiative (to which the council added £1.75 million) has revitalised the public park.
Most of the £5 million has been spent on a series of major works, including the restoration of the mansion’s original terracing, the creation of a William Morris interpretive garden, the relining of the lake, extensive planting of shrubs and trees and decluttering (there had been six different types of railings). However, the most visually obvious improvement is the addition of a central pavilion, designed by Architecture PLB.
The principal design challenge with many pavilions is how to create a high-quality piece of architecture that will not attract the abuse so often aimed at public buildings. The previous pavilion had been the victim of severe vandalism and from the start Architecture PLB set out to create a robust structure that would not suffer a similar fate. They wanted, and have created, a building that can be fully secured, but that does not impart a defensive aesthetic.
Standing at a natural gathering point, the pavilion rests at the intersection of two main routes through the park where the formal gardens associated with the mansion break out into the open fields of Aveling Park. A ribbon of buildings running alongside the north-south thoroughfare, the hub is directly linked by a path to the park’s other main draw, the William Morris Gallery, which was recently renovated with an unremarkable extension added by Pringle Richards Sharratt.
Now the focal point of the park, the pavilion contains a gallery, six artists’ studios and a café, run by Waltham Forest College. The adult education programme delivered in the kitchen allows the café to justify extended operation hours, which encourages activity around the building.
The café is welcoming, with the full-height glazing facing the playground. To make it secure, Architecture PLB did not want to hide the building behind a fence - a technique employed by Cottrell & Vermeulen at the Lloyd Park Children’s Centre situated opposite. In contrast, the Lloyd Park Pavilion’s security elements have been integrated to create a fully secure building that does not resemble a fortress. Rainwater pipes are recessed into walls and the roof has a large overhang to prevent climbing on the building. The green roof is not only a sustainable design feature, but also prevents the smashing of roof tiles, something the architects’ research found to be a favourite youth antic. Other security elements are disguised or hidden. The window bars are designed to look like brise-soleils, the roller shutters are fully concealed within the eaves and a mesh, decorated with a pattern from a William Morris print chosen from the collection in the nearby museum, provides solar shading for the café.
Unfortunately Architecture PLB’s aesthetic strategy has not been completely implemented. A security fence, following Secured by Design guidance, encloses the refurbished art studios. The architect’s intention, as seen in the planning drawings, was to continue the rough-faced brick garden wall surrounding the café and art gallery around this third of the building. A funding shortfall resulted in last-minute cost savings and, in order to bring the project within budget, the building’s height was lowered by three courses of brick and the final section of the wall was abandoned.
It’s a shame that Architecture PLB was not given the opportunity to follow the programme to its conclusion - perhaps a modern day Lloyd was required to fill the funding gap?
The architect has resisted the temptation to build a trophy pavilion, investing instead in high-quality design and integrated security. The overall effect is a building that, through its lack of overt defensiveness, does not present itself as a challenge. To deem any building ‘vandal-proof’ is a step too far, but I hope Architecture PLB’s pavilion will stay as fresh as the day I visited it.