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Competition: Custom House charette, Royal Docks

08 custom house station architects impression freemasons road 127361
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The London Festival of Architecture (LFA) is inviting expressions of interest from architects to participate in a design charrette for Custom House in the Royal Docks

The charrette is open to architects and urban planners with relevant experience, and will explore options to boost public realm connectivity within the area stretching from Royal Victoria Dock to Custom House station, which will be served by the Elizabeth Line from next year.

Up to five teams will be selected to draw up a ‘meaningful and visionary’ place-making strategy for the district, which is tipped for £314 million worth of regeneration over the next five years. The call for participants is supported by the Royal Docks Team in partnership with Newham Regeneration.

LFA director Tamsie Thomson said: ‘The Royal Docks is a fascinating part of London for architects and urban designers; an area with a rich heritage and enormous potential, and a focus area for the London Festival of Architecture since 2017.

‘This design charrette builds on the London Festival of Architecture’s strong track record of working with communities and giving them a voice; bringing people together with talented architects and planners as well as key decision-makers to address their local area’s exciting challenges and opportunities.’

London’s deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills, Jules Pipe, said: ‘The Royal Docks is set to become an important new district of London with the potential to generate 35,000 jobs, 4,000 new homes and attract more than £5 billion investment over the next 20 years.

‘Our partnership with the mayor of Newham and the LFA means we can put the objectives of Sadiq’s Good Growth agenda at the very heart of the regeneration of the Royal Docks. I look forward to seeing what London’s world-leading architects and designers have to offer in developing the vision for the area.’

Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said: ‘It’s important that residents are part of the plans to unlock the full potential of the Royal Docks, which are going through a renaissance and once again will become London’s new gateway to the world.

‘Newham is a vibrant place that offers a home to British companies and others from around the world. The priority is ensuring local people are at the heart of all the developments underway, reaping the benefits of new jobs and career opportunities, better transport links and genuinely affordable homes.’

The Royal Docks and surrounding area were constructed in the 1850s, and abandoned just over a century later. They have long been tipped as London’s next major regeneration opportunity. In 2012 the 170ha of land and 96ha of water was transformed into an enterprise zone, promoting a range of schemes including plans for a floating residential village.

Local landmarks include WilkinsonEyre’s base for Siemens, dubbed ‘The Crystal’; the Excel exhibition centre, which was expanded by Grimshaw in 2010; and the competition-winning Royal Victoria Dock Bridge by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

Planned developments in the area include a £1 billion Asian Business Port,  masterplanned and designed by Terry Farrell with second-stage concepts by BuckleyGreyYeoman, Fletcher Priest, Cartwright Pickard, MaccreanorLavington and Panter Hudspith. Fletcher Priest Architects’ £3.5 billion regeneration of Silvertown Quays also won planning in 2015.

The latest charette comes a year after emerging practice YOU&ME Architecture won an earlier LFA contest to transform a disused space beneath the Royal Dock’s Silvertown Flyover into a creative workspace.

The charrette aims to boost connectivity between the area of Custom House to the north which features large numbers of council homes and the area to the south which hosts the Excel exhibition centre and several large waterfront hotels.

The project will focus on the arrival to Custom House station and consider wayfinding signage, public realm design, and the potential to deliver new development, infrastructure and amenities such as an events space.

Teams will receive £700 each to participate in the two-day event which will require the equivalent of an A2 board displaying ideas to be produced.

The deadline for applications is 3pm on 19 October.

How to apply

View the competition website for more information

Contact details

Email: rosa@londonfestivalofarchitecture.org


Q&A with Tamsie Thomson

The LFA director discusses her ambitions for the contest

Tamsie Thomson

Why are your holding an open call for architects to participate in a charrette addressing key challenges in the Royal Docks area?

The Royal Docks is a fascinating part of London for architects and urban designers. The Mayor of London and Mayor of Newham have ambitious plans for the Royal Docks area over the next five years. We’ve been paying special attention in the area recently, working with the Royal Docks Team, as it’s one of our Festival Hubs – it’s got huge potential and an impressive history.

We think pure ideas competitions are often inefficient. This charrette format allows us to identify a range of 4 or 5 diverse architectural and urban planning practices who can bring new thinking to working alongside and involving local representatives. In working with local partners, the selected practices will also gain a deeper understanding of the area and the possibilities the Royal Docks offer.

What is your vision for the future of the area between Custom House and Royal Victoria?

What’s really important is that the selected practices will work with the local community to uncover new ways to deal with some of the opportunities in the area.The focus of the design charrette will consider how the arrival of the Elizabeth Line and other investment can be delivered to reflect the identity of the existing community and the social and cultural heritage of the area.

Customs House DLR station currently serves the ExCel Exhibition Centre as well as a large existing community and increasingly, a new incoming community. But the connections around the station are difficult. The charrette will explore a range of issues including public realm design, new development, civic amenities, infrastructure and sustainability.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We’re hoping that the charrette will draw attention to ideas that might not normally come through the standard procurement process. The jury will be interested in looking for practices that can bring novel ideas and ways of working with local stakeholders. That might be bigger practices which have traditionally worked in one sector but can bring their different ways of thinking from one field to another. Or it might be smaller emerging practices from unusual backgrounds. We’re really keen on widening access – but that doesn’t just mean ‘emerging’ – it’s about those that can bring in new and unusual ideas.

I’ve been really pleased to see how well many of our previous competition winners have done on the back of winning, for example IF_DO’s stunning success following the 2017 Dulwich Pavilion.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

We’ll shortly be announcing the winner of our Thessaly Road competition. And of course, we’re working with the winners of our Dulwich Pavilion competition to see their pavilion installed in time for the 2019 Festival. We’ve got a number of other exciting competitions in the pipeline, which we’ll be announcing very soon. We’re really keen on creating opportunities for emerging practices, widening access and leaving a lasting positive legacy for Londoners. Keep an eye on the AJ’s competitions pages for more information in the next couple of weeks!

Are there any other recent public realm urban regeneration projects you have been impressed by?

I think Make Architect’s recently completed London Wall scheme has really made a significant change to a previously overlooked part of the City. On a different scale, Blue House Yard by Jan Kattein Architects in Haringey had made a huge difference to a meanwhile site. Both are really interesting examples of public realm interventions. 

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