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Alsop lashes out at plan to demolish Peckham arch

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Will Alsop has slammed Carl Turner Architects’ proposal to demolish the arch at the entrance to Peckham Square, south-east London

Alsop, who won the Stirling Prize in 2000 with his Peckham Library which sits within the square, decried the plan to remove the distinctive canopy, which provides a gateway to Peckham Square and to Burgess Park beyond.

The proposed demolition of the 35m-span canopy, designed by John McAslan in 1994, forms part of recently submitted proposals by Carl Turner Architects to regenerate the area.

Alsop said: ‘The arch was the first thing there, which suggested something was happening to Peckham. As a regeneration device it was very good. [Turner is] actually destroying what, to me, is an important bit of townscape.’

According to Alsop, removing the steel and timber structure to make way for the construction of two new buildings at 91-93 Peckham High Street would ‘narrow the gap’ to the square and block vital views to shops at the other side.

He said: ‘The whole of the library is a response to the arch, so you can see through the arch to Peckham Hill Street. That was very important because of the row of shops there, which, if you couldn’t see them, I think would die.’


Will Alsop’s Stirling Prize-winning Peckham Library

The two new buildings will provide 19 flats – six of which are earmarked for social housing – shops and communal spaces.

Describing the arch as an ‘important device’ in the area, Alsop said the arch needs maintenance work but that did not merit its removal. ‘It needs new covering on the top, that’s all,’ he said.

Alsop said he had been told the lights on the arch no longer worked, adding: ‘You could always buy more bulbs, couldn’t you?’

An existing temporary pavilion, which houses Peckham Platform, a public art gallery supporting local artists, will also be taken down – although the AJ understands the facility could move into the new building. Meanwhile the Peckham Peace Wall, erected by Garudio Studiage following the London riots, will be restored and moved to a new location in the square. 

Alsop’s criticism of the demolition plan follows opposition from the arch’s designer John McAslan, founder of McAslan + Partners.

McAslan told the AJ: ‘Our arch in Peckham was a tremendous collaboration between ourselves and Arup, Southwark and  artist Ron Haselden, whose dramatic light sculpture anticipated weather patterns as they passed through the area.

‘I would hope that it could be incorporated in Peckham’s regeneration in some way or dismantled and erected elsewhere. I’m sure it has a beneficial use somewhere.’

In addition, a campaign group called Save Peckham Arch is protesting against the proposals. 

The group said: ‘There are far more vacant spaces that need greater attention than taking away an icon of the area. It’s on mugs; it’s on tea towels; it’s absolutely one of the few iconic and unique buildings that signify Peckham.’

Defending the proposal, Carl Turner said: ‘The consensus of the design team and Southwark Regeneration Department is that the canopy has served its purpose. Peckham is now a vibrant and successful place and it’s time to create a place that works better. We believe that communities have moved on from “icons”.’

The council is expected to deliver its decision on Carl Turner Architects’ plans by mid-October.

Last month Carl Turner Architects also submitted a planning application for a new building on Eagle Wharf, at the edge of the square. It will provide a new home for Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

View Carl Turner Architects’ planning application for 91-93 Peckham High Street 

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