The RIBA has announced an international contest to design a sustainable masterplan for London’s Low Line
The Low Line is a proposed linear regeneration focusing on a series of 19th-century viaducts stretching from Southwark tube station on Blackfriars Road in the west to Southwark Park Road in the east. Historically the structures have been underused at street level, creating a physical barrier between central and south London.
The phased project aims to transform the brick-arched structures into a continuous piece of green infrastructure featuring a ‘world-class walking route’ and engaging public spaces which enhance urban biodiversity and promote the health and wellbeing of residents and businesses.
The anonymous competition invites multidisciplinary teams of architects, landscape architects, artists, ecologists and designers to create a ‘green and creative vision and strategy’ for the project.
The contest – backed by Better Bankside and the Low Line Steering Group with support from the Lund Trust – will select a masterplan to unlock the potential of underused spaces and boost ecology along the viaducts. Five shortlisted teams will receive £4,000 to further develop their schemes. The overall winner will take forward one or more sites along the route.
Initiatives already underway include Musicity x Low Line, a series of 15 newly-commissioned musical works responding to specific sites along the route and beyond. Earlier proposals for public spaces throughout the area include the Bankside Urban Forest by Witherford Watson Mann.
Donald Hyslop, chair of Better Bankside and the Low Line Steering Group, said: ‘The Low Line is fast becoming a special public place for Londoners and visitors from all over the world. Our exciting new partnership with the Lund Trust and RIBA Competition offers the chance to plot its future.
‘It is an opportunity to look afresh at one of the more special, intriguing, idiosyncratic and diverse neighbourhoods in London. We are looking forward to exploring new ideas that ensure a green and sustainable future of the Low Line and those living and working nearby.’
The latest competition aims to raise visibility and awareness of the project and identify a series of solutions for individual spaces which could be delivered in the coming years. It is supported by the Lund Trust, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.
Rausing and Baldwin said: ‘We are excited to be part of the Low Line project, which we hope will open a path for communities and nature to thrive. This competition is a chance to help shape plans for a green and biodiverse public space, and to inspire a vision for greener, healthier and more inclusive cities.’
Judges will include Rausing; Landscape Institute president Adam White; Tim Rettler of the Greater London Authority regeneration team; Rebecca Lury, deputy Leader of Southwark Council; and Graham Morrison, partner at Bankside-based Allies and Morrison who will be acting as RIBA adviser.
Commenting on the launch, Morrison said: ‘The rail viaducts are an integral part of the character of Bankside, London Bridge and Bermondsey. As industrial infrastructure, they had long been a barrier but they are now being rediscovered, and this competition offers an ideal opportunity to knit them into the fabric of our neighbourhood.’
The deadline for applications is 2pm on 2 September.
How to apply
Visit the competition website for more information
No 1 Aire Street
Tel: 0113 203 1490
Valerie Beirne, Bankside Urban Forest manager
Why are your holding an international contest for a creative and sustainable Low Line vision?
We have been given a unique opportunity from Lund Trust, to commission an ambitious and creative strategy for ensuring that green infrastructure and biodiversity are at the heart of the Low Line. We are keen at this point of the Low Line’s evolution not to be constrained in our thinking and see this competition as an exciting opportunity to garner new and innovative ideas to spark our imaginations. The open contest also allows for new and emerging designers to compete alongside more established practices.
What is your vision for London’s Low Line and its individual elements resulting from the contest?
The Low Line is an ambitious project, that will take many years to fully complete and join up the different spaces across Bankside, London Bridge and Bermondsey and beyond. We are developing our thinking about what this means, and considering what principles and standards are needed to underpin our work and ensure that the Low Line is a world-class exemplar of re-imagining and re-purposing such urban infrastructures in a sustainable and sensitive way.
Adapting cities to climate change, providing more and better spaces for people and wildlife are common challenges that we are facing in urban areas, and we hope to see opportunities to address these challenges emerge from the competition. What we are trying to achieve in this initial stretch of the Low Line in Bankside, London Bridge and Bermondsey, in terms of empowering people, making better places and growing prosperity, we hope will provide a template to inspire positive change in other areas where there are similar local conditions.
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
As professional bodies and others declare a climate emergency, no single discipline can provide the answer to the challenge this presents, and cross disciplinary collaboration is needed more than ever. We are really hoping that this gets reflected in the entries to this contest and that we get some exciting mixes of disciplines responding to this call.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
We are developing a work plan for the Low Line for the short and medium term and have secured some initial funding to deliver a number of smaller-scale exemplar urban realm interventions that again will demonstrate the ambition and standard we are aiming to achieve along the Low Line.
Are there any other recent linear green infrastructure you have been impressed by?
The original idea for the Low Line came from a local Bankside resident, who entered an ideas competition called A High Line for London back in 2012. The transformation of the High Line in New York, and the Avenue Plantee in Paris, has triggered many cities to look at their rail, road and other grey linear infrastructure in imaginative and different ways. In London it is great to see other projects like the Peckham Coal Line capture peoples’ imaginations.