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WAF London Student charrette: the future of London’s squares

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Architecture students from London Southbank, University of Westminster and Ravensbourne College proposed ideas for the future of London’s squares at a charrette this weekend

Organised as part of the World Architecture Festival’s (WAF) London showcase the event invited teams of students to reinvent this key part of the private and public realm of the capital.

The teams were given 24 hours to come up with radical designs which included housing, public space and parking.

They then had to present their ideas in front of a jury which included John Drew of Pringle Brandon Perkins + Will and director of Ubrik Lee Mallett alongside WAF’s Paul Finch and Jeremy Melvin.

Designs included introducing mixed-use to currently residential-only surrounded squares, pop-ups, towers and a circular bridge.

The judges gave a special mention to London Southbank University’s team from Sao Paulo which they said ‘had best grasped the true meaning and feeling of a London square’.

London Southbank University - Sao Paulo students

Dorset Square

London Southbank University Sao Paulo Team

Dorset Square is currently private and can only be accessed by the residents of the surrounding housing.

This idea was about making the square more permeable and integrating it with the urban grain of the city.

The team suggested opening up the square and making it public access while introducing a mix of uses to the surrounding buildings.

They understood the necessity to open up the space while still maintaining an element of privacy through the square’s trees.

During the days people would go there to have lunch, while at weekends there would be space for a market, to play football or to watch films in an open air cinema.

The judges’ comments

‘They addressed the key problem of exclusivity. But how do you persuade the owners of the surrounding homes to give over their exclusivity rights for the greater good of public space? The introduction of other uses also really caught my eye.’ Lee Mallett

‘This shows a sophisticated understanding of London’s squares.’ Jeremy Melvin

‘An unusual idea of opening up one side of the square. Congratulations.’ Paul Finch

London Southbank University

Fitzroy Square

London Southbank University team

Mainly built by the Adam brothers this 18th century square is surrounded by Georgian terraces. This group suggested keeping the buildings and working with the existing.

The key feature of the proposal was a large circular bridge which would run around the square and create new uses, such as an amphitheatre, beneath it.

‘The bridge encourages the city to go up another layer – it acts a new infrastructure’, explained the team.

The scheme also proposed four new towers providing housing at the four corners of the site. These ranged in height from 20 storeys downs to just six storeys.

Judges’ comments

‘This is an intriguing idea. The decision not to demolish the historic environment is a smart strategy in London but what has been proposed would give Historic England and the conservation officers a fit.’ Paul Finch

‘A scheme not short of ambition. Perhaps it would have less impact on the square if it went even taller.’ John Drew

‘The kind of startling, bonkers scheme I’ve been longing to see added to a listed square for years. Radical ways of housing London’s growing population have to be found and this is excellent propaganda.’ Lee Mallett

University of Westminster

Soho Square

University of Westminster team

Unlike many of the other London squares looked at by the teams, Soho Square is open and completely accessible to the public.

This team began by researching how the English square developed and was exported around the world.

They proposed the use of the square as a vehicle for bringing people together and a place for protests and pop-up events.

The proposal – of pop-up squares - suggested new squares could be created through simple boundaries, like a line or a wifi zone, and proposed the four corners of the new squares would be marked by balloons.

Judges’ comments

‘It is a square in a flat pack. Temporary pop-ups work really well.’ Jeremy Melvin

‘This is the actual future of the London Square. Peter Rees was pushing for spaces like this. It is about facilitating amenities in a tight environment.’ Lee Mallett

Ravensbourne College

Manchester Square

Ravensbourne College team

This Georgian square was once public but it is now mainly private. It is bounded by the home of the Wallace Collection, and it is this connection with the major arts collection, that this group chose to build on with their ideas.

Their proposal focused around the theme of ‘inverting’ and it proposed extending the Wallace collection out into the square.

The scheme proposed that to replace the green space lost by doing this a circular tower would be built which featured both high level landscaping and housing.

The team suggested that these towers could be replicated in squares across the capital.

Judges’ comments

‘I’m a sucker for circular towers. This is a stimulating idea for an unusual square with a different feel.’ Paul Finch

‘I’m amazed this proposal was put together in a day. I like the idea of thinking about the next generation of expansion of cultural institutions.’ Lee Mallett

‘This was a great, professional presentation. It was very persuasive. I like the idea of the garden at the top of the building but I’m concerned about the loss of the square.’ John Drew

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