The London Festival of Architecture (LFA) has launched a contest to design a public realm intervention on the banks of the Grand Union Canal beneath the Westway
The two-stage competition invites architects, landscape architects, designers and artists to submit ‘engaging and exciting’ concepts to transform the derelict motorway undercroft into a waterfront public space. Judges include AJ technical editor Fran Williams.
The call for concepts – backed by Westminster City Council – aims to deliver an ‘experimental cross section’ which boosts public interest and engagement with the neglected canal towpath in the Harrow Road area of North Kensington. The winner will receive £30,000 to install their scheme in time for this year’s festival in June.
LFA director Tamsie Thomson said: ‘The competition is a brilliant opportunity for architects, landscape architects, designers and artists, thanks to Westminster City Council’s commitment to improving the local environment and to helping communities make the most of their local area and everyday spaces.
‘As we explore the theme of “boundaries” in this year’s festival, I’m looking forward to seeing how entrants tackle the physical constraints and opportunities of the site in a way that can open it up for more people to enjoy.’
The Westway is a 5.6km-long elevated dual carriageway, which opened in 1970, connecting Paddington with North Kensington. The busy route borders the Paddington branch of the Grand Union Canal around 200m east of Great Western Road.
The contest focuses on the dramatic but unwelcoming towpath and undercroft where the canal and motorway meet. This is currently a largely underused space featuring graffiti murals and live-in canal boats.
The project aims to revitalise the canalside route while also creating a flagship example for a wider strategy to deliver similar improvement schemes across the area. Participating teams are invited to propose a 10-to-20m ‘cross section’.
Submissions could including wayfinding or education resources, community uses, boating facilities, planting or public realm. Up to six shortlisted teams will receive £500 each to draw up design concepts following an expressions-of-interest round.
Judges include Williams, Thomson, Westminster City Council urban design coordinator Ruchi Chakravarty, Canal & River Trust enterprise manager Hannah Gibbs, and the local architect and director of the Maida Hill Neighbourhood CIC Biljana Savic.
The deadline for application is midday, 8 March.
How to apply
Rosa Rogina, LFA head of programme
Why are your holding a competition to rethink a stretch of the Grand Union Canal towpath beneath the Westway?
We are delighted to have partnered with Westminster City Council (WCC) for this competition, to transform this stretch of towpath into a welcoming and functional resource for the local community. By working with WCC to identify this site, and opening it up as a design competition, we hope to be able to generate proposals that tie in with the council’s commitment to improving the local environment, to increase activity along and engagement with the canal.
As a local resident myself, I often pass the towpath on my way to work and find that with the site bounded by railway land and the Westway above, the canal-side route is notably under-used, despite its potential in forming valuable links to the Paddington Opportunity Area, Old Oak and Park Royal. This offers an opportunity to explore a variety of interconnected opportunities for the towpath and water, promoting conversation and the involvement of local residents, canal-users and stakeholders in developing the site’s potential.
The winning entry will offer a platform to test strategies for improving the area’s appearance over the course of the 2019 Festival, in order to pave the way for wider landscape regeneration that better serves the community.
What is your vision for the experimental new cross section public realm?
We are hoping that the competition will deliver a creative solution which connects people with the canal while enhancing the look and feel of the site. We are looking for an intervention that provides visitors and passers-by with a useable and engaging resource, whether this is educational or simply a place to sit and enjoy the setting is open to the entrants’ interpretation. The value of increasing public space – including boosting and championing the ecology - introducing new uses and enhancing access to the canal should be central to the proposals.
In addition to the main ‘cross-section’ intervention, thought should therefore also be given to increasing footfall to the site for local residents and other users, with two smaller way-finding installations to direct people towards the canal-side.
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
Alongside WCC, we’re thrilled to open the competition to creatives across the profession, as we welcome entries from architects, landscape architects, designers and artists, and from both individuals and collaborations. This is a great opportunity to participate in a unique project and for entrants to showcase their imaginative design to the public during this year’s Festival, and to the Harrow Road community. We hope that the competition will offer entrants a platform to take a bold and experimental approach to improving the public realm, and in line with the LFA’s 2019 theme, to push the boundaries of the site’s potential.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
In the run-up to June, the LFA still has many more competitions in the making, so definitely make sure to watch this space. In the meantime, the festival has just launched its St Paul’s Plinth competition with Cheapside Business Alliance, to repurpose the structure of ScottWhitbyStudio and Arup’s ‘St Paul’s Gateway’ installation from last year’s Festival. This competition uses the structure as a basis for new work that can both resonate with the site’s rich heritage and offer a glimpse into the future of the Square Mile.
Are there any other recent innovative public realm projects you have been impressed by?
For us, it has been incredible to see the changes along the Southbank in the past 20 years, opening up the waterfront to bring people closer to the Thames, as the intervention along the Grand Union Canal strives to do for the Harrow Road community. With our capital being home to a vast variety of canals and lost rivers, we felt that strengthening this relationship with water is key to getting Londoner’s closer to these hidden places. Similarly, the idea of linear walkways has also proven to be very successful across the world. Like the famous New York High Line and the Peckham Coal Line, we hope to see site-specific proposals which encourage people to engage with and enjoy their unique surroundings, while creating a destination in their own right.