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Carl Turner’s plans to demolish Peckham Arch set for approval

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Proposals by Carl Turner Architects to remove the famous Peckham Arch as part of a redevelopment of Peckham Square have been recommended for approval by Southwark Council 

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

The plan, which currently has 112 public comments largely objecting to the scheme, will go to committee next Tuesday (8 November). 

Backed by Southwark Council, the scheme includes removing the 22-year-old steel and timber structure to make way for two new four- and six-storey buildings providing flats, shops and communal spaces. In total, there will be 19 apartments – 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. 

But the scheme has been criticised by local campaign group Save Peckham Arch. The AJ understands that the group is currently trying to nominate the arch as an Asset of Community Value. 

A spokesman for the group previously told the AJ: ’[The arch] is on mugs, it’s on tea towels, and it’s absolutely one of the few iconic and unique buildings that signify Peckham. People know they’re in Peckham when they pass through it.

‘By night it’s a bright and colourful space; by day it’s a live and active public space.’

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

Despite this, Will Alsop has previously criticised Turner’s proposals to scrap the arch, saying that Turner is ‘destroying’ an important part of the townscape. 

Arch 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’ plans for a new-build on nearby Eagle Wharf were granted planning permission. The scheme will provide a new home for Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

View the recommendation here

‘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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Readers' comments (1)

  • Beware anyone who justifies destroying something of obvious value because 'it's in a state of disrepair'.

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