Those who attended the 1996 exhibition of design ideas for Southwark may recall video footage of commuters, school children, locals and tourists navigating fragmented pedestrian routes, dominated by structures built not for humans but for traffic and trains. Architects were asked to produce design ideas as part of an initiative by Southwark Council, the Architecture Foundation, and the Government Office for London. The footage was taken by Eric Parry Architects, prom0ting a scheme which celebrated the area's diversity, while alleviating pedestrian disorientation.
For the past two years, epa has worked with local groups and institutions, consultants and the London Borough of Southwark to develop its submission into a workable scheme. 'We had a budget of £300,000 for hard landscaping, says epa's Stephen Witherford. 'We could spread the money and try to improve pedestrian surfaces services throughout the area, or focus on a small space. We decided to intensify the use of the corner between London Bridge and Duke Street Hill. Intensification is a key strategy.'
epa plans to redefine the wide corner pavement as a public space, marked by a 16m-high tapering stone monument. Originally, the architect envisaged an 'information wall' serving local residents and tourists. Coincidentally, a study of tourism commissioned by Southwark identified the corner opposite the site as the ideal spot for a tourist and information centre. epa suggested that the centre could be inserted into the disused space beneath the concrete ramp adjacent to the new public space. The Centre includes space for exhibitions and meetings, and will serve locals as well as tourists, who are expected in their droves with the 1999 opening of the Tate Gallery at Bankside.
Witherford describes the centre as 'a lightweight insertion, to contrast with the vast surrounding structure'. Lightweight decks, stepped to follow the existing sloping roof, span between existing columns, and are connected by a ramp. The envisaged information wall has re-emerged as a 24-hour interactive display window, which will light the public space at night.
The building, with a projected 10-year life, can be unclipped from the existing structure. Planning permission was granted in October 1997, and the project goes out to tender early this year.
True to the Borough of Southwark's original intentions, the project remains, in Witherford's words, 'more about the public realm than about making buildings', and is a prototype for future regeneration. It knits together the disjointed surroundings by creating a route from the newly created public space to Tooley Street, six metres lower. A hydraulic lift will improve disabled access in the area, taking members of the public from the foot of London Bridge to Tooley Street. The lift will be of glass and stainless steel, contrasting with the mass of monumental stone.
TOTAL PROJECT COST: £850,000
COMPLETION DATE: Summer 1998
CLIENT: London Borough of Southwark regeneration and environment department. Project co-ordination Craig Bradley
ARCHITECT: Eric Parry: Stephen Witherford, Justin Sayer, Darren Andrews, Peter Ferretto, Emma Huckett
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Adams Kara Taylor
QUANTITY SURVEYOR: Dearle and Henderson
MECHANICAL ENGINEER: Michael Popper Associates
PLANNING SUPERVISOR: Eidetic
LIGHTING ENGINEER: Spiers and Major
STONEWORK SUBCONTRACTOR: Ketton Stone