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Carl Turner’s plan to demolish Peckham Arch wins go-ahead

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Southwark Council has granted permission for Carl Turner Architects to remove the famous Peckham Arch as part of a redevelopment of Peckham Square in south London

The contentious demolition of the 35m-span, canopy-like structure, designed by John McAslan in 1994, forms part of submitted proposals to overhaul the area.

The scheme, which is backed by the council, will remove the 22-year-old steel and timber arch at the entrance to Peckham square to make way for two new four and six-storey buildings providing flats, shops and communal spaces.

In total, there will be 19 flats, six of which are earmarked for social housing. 

An existing temporary pavilion, which houses Peckham Platform, a public art gallery supporting local artists, will also be taken down, though the AJ understands the facility could move into the new building. Meanwhile the well-known Peckham Peace Wall will be restored and moved to a new location in the square.  

The application received 116 public comments, largely objecting to the schemes, and the proposal was heavily criticised by Peckham residents local campaign group Save Peckham Arch


A spokesman for the group, which recently nominated the arch as an Asset of Community Value, said he was ‘saddened’ by the decision. ‘It was established by the committee that the site is public land,’ he said. ‘Despite this, the site will now be developed for the most part as private housing.

‘Southwark councillors have set a strong precedent with their decision that public land in Southwark is at risk and that objections count for nought,’ he added.

But Carl Turner of Carl Turner Architects hit back, describing the arch as in ‘a state of disrepair’ and ‘a significant impediment’ to the square. He added that the structure ‘blocks views’ through the square as well as towards Alsop and Störmer’s Stirling Prize-winning Peckham Library (see full statement below).

Following the decision, he told the AJ: ‘We have participated in an open co-production process, perhaps not perfect, but we spent this time listening carefully to local concerns and aspirations.

’A wide range of differing, sometimes opposing views have made it impossible to reach a consensus about the merits of retaining or removing Peckham arch.’

He added that he hoped the plans would reinforce the site’s ‘status as the civic heart of Peckham’ and that they would build on the area’s ‘growing reputation as a creative powerhouse’. 

Speaking before the result on Tuesday night (8 November), the arch’s designer, John McAslan of McAslan + Partners, said: ‘Our arch in Peckham was a tremendous collaboration between ourselves and Arup, Southwark and the artist Ron Haselden, whose dramatic light sculpture anticipated weather patterns as they passed through the area.

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

In September, Carl Turner Architects also won planning for a major development on the nearby Eagle Wharf  which will provide a new home for Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

‘We believe communities have moved on from icons’ – Carl Turner on removing the arch

Peckham Arch, or the canopy as we have referred to it, is known locally as a landmark of sorts. I guess we asked ourselves and the people of Peckham: if we proposed dropping this sub-High-Tech structure into the context of a conservation area, what would the reaction be? We are pretty sure people would not be keen and in fact it seems to be a structure that divides opinion, a bit like Marmite, into love it or loathe it.

We personally think if we analyse it as a piece of urban design, it is not of high quality and was placed on to the site before the square, the library or Peckham Pulse (the sports centre) existed as a symbolic entrance. Rowan Moore wrote a piece at the time of its completion which was not complimentary, and even those who commissioned it called it ‘the arch to nowhere’.

Our view is that the canopy, the steps and ramps forming its podium now form a significant impediment to the major north/south desire lines of both pedestrians and cyclists. The canopy also blocks views into and out from the square and of the Stirling Prize-winning library. It’s tired, has big holes in its roof and is too high to be effective as a covered space – there is ample covered space under the library overhang.

As with all public space infrastructure it is difficult and costly to maintain, it is in a state of disrepair, and 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 removal of the canopy and its podium was not arrived at lightly. We presented two options to Southwark’s cabinet: one to retain and one to remove the canopy. They voted unanimously to remove it. This was to deliver the clear benefits of an activated square.

Our proposals take the active uses of the high street and wrap these around into the square to create a place with real activity and people living and working in the square. We are providing a large co-work space at street level in one building, and an expanded gallery at the base of the other, both with housing above, including much-needed social housing – one of the key deliverables of the council’s brief. In fact, we are more or less rebuilding what was there before the canopy, restoring the historic street pattern.

The proposed pair of buildings will act as a new gateway, hence their height, acting as inhabited gateposts. These new buildings also help address the poor quality of the backs of the existing buildings (that most people agree really affects the setting for the wider square). The ambition is to breathe life into the square, currently more of a cut-though than a destination, to help create a space that feels safe at all times of the day. This is about bringing in a mix of uses and, when considered alongside the adjacent proposals for Mountview Academy, will reinforce this as a vibrant, active civic heart to Peckham.

We also considered a new canopy between the two proposed gateway buildings but ultimately this was considered to create an emphasis on the entrance rather than the new enlarged square, the centre of gravity of which will move slightly north towards the Mountview Academy and away from the busy Peckham High Street. The canopy’s location next to such a busy road has, from its conception, been problematic, and the activities intended to happen below have not transpired. This life can now happen within the new square.

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  • 'In total there will be 19 flats, 6 of which are earmarked for social housing'
    - and the other 13? Built on public land? What's going on?

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