Rory Olcayto reveals the results of the AJ’s subterranean design competition, run in partnership with structural waterproofing manufacturer RIW
In February this year the AJ launched #goingunderground, an imaginative design competition in partnership with structural waterproofing manufacturer RIW.
The task was simple: entrants were asked to choose a landmark British building or structure – the Houses of Parliament for example, or the Angel of the North – and propose an underground project to sit beneath it. The proposals could be political, witty, off-the-wall, or – for the braver competitors – maybe even practical.
The response was nothing if not varied. Entries were virtually impossible to compare. So, as a guide for the jury – which included AJ editor Rory Olcayto and Make’s Ken Shuttleworth – an essay by the late, great Philip K Dick was cited. Dick is the science-fiction writer whose stories inspired Hollywood movies including Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. In 1978 he gave a lecture entitled How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later. Among its many messages was this very simple observation: if a fiction of any kind – a short story, a drawing, an architectural idea – obeys the rules it has set for itself, then the story, or world, it creates, will be coherent and can be considered viable, or even ‘real’.
So while some of the projects selected for the shortlist, and perhaps even our winner, may seem far-fetched, or even impossible, their execution, and the ideas behind them suggest a consistent ‘world’. This, then, allowed the jury to select seven strong projects, which included one unanimous winner. They were: a fun palace beneath the Houses of Parliament, a fracking rig in Whitehall, a skatepark beneath London’s South Bank, an engine room below the Gherkin, a bus station below Marble Arch, student housing under Somerset House, and our winner, a cemetery in Hyde Park.
During a celebratory lunch for the creators of all the shortlisted schemes, the prize – £1,000 of holiday vouchers – was awarded to The Serpentine Columbarium by MSMR Architects. The London-based practice then surprised the room by announcing it was donating its winnings to charity.
Serpentine Columbarium by MSMR Architects
This gorge carved around the side of the Serpentine’s Long Water creates a space for people to remember the dead
Fun Palace of Westminster by Edward Crooks
Politics as entertainment in today’s leisure economy
The Gherkin Programme by Sean Cassidy
The secret at the heart of the City of London: an underground space port
Can subterranean housing solve London’s housing crisis? by Tom Bestwick
Sixty student residences in the ditch at Somerset House
Marble Arch Coach Exchange by Hannah Cordell
Art blends with infrastructure in a new bus station beneath Marble Arch
Underground Undercroft by Kieran Thomas Wardle
A new permanent home for London’s skaters
Urban Fracktures by Charlotte Wilson
What if shale gas exploration took place in central London?
Ken Shuttleworth, founder, Make
Mark Walker, managing director, RIW
Sarah Patrick, marketing manager, RIW
Andy Cassie, managing director, CIB Communications
Nick Gill, account director, CIB Communications
Rory Olcayto, editor, The Architects’ Journal