Architects vie to regenerate London’s forgotten spaces

9 October 2013
By Abi Grogan
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David Wakefield and Robert Nimmo's submission

David Wakefield and Robert Nimmo's submission "A Lost World" is a zoo complex in a decommissioned gas holder

An exhibition is showcasing proposals to renovate some of London’s disused and abandoned spaces to create public attractions.

Following on from the regeneration fame of the Olympic Games, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) opened an exhibition at Somerset House last week celebrating Forgotten Spaces 2013 in London. Regeneration proposals were entered by architect firms, groups and individuals for plots of derelict land in boroughs across London, in an effort to win RIBA’s £3,000 first prize.

“This competition brought about much support from local communities,” said Harry Rich, chief executive of the RIBA. “It was concerned with how people engage with where they live. People who want to better understand that the world around them happens not by accident, but by architects.”

Entrants had the option to choose from a predetermined list of available locations or to nominate their own. Transport influences were heavily featured, with locations plucked from London’s labyrinth of derelict underground-tube lines. Solutions ranged from swimming baths in Aldwych’s abandoned tube station, to a recyclable event space inside Whitechapel’s abandoned tube tunnel. Iconic regeneration projects included creating a giant curtain inside the BT tower’s decommissioned aerial platforms.

The winning project was 4orm architect firm, with their riverside regeneration proposal, Fleeting Memories. Their project draws on current public interest in resurrecting London’s forgotten canals. The new riverside park was designed as a route for pedestrians and cyclists.

Second prize winners were Studio Pink with Aquadocks, in Silvertown. The swimming pool and spa proposal for the Royal Docks area provided a memorable sensory and spatial experience.

Third place was awarded to Silvertown Brewery Project, who also chose Silvertown, Newsham. At the cusp of their architectural careers, this group drew on their knowledge of the demographic of which they had the most knowledge, their own.

“We were inspired to design a microbrewery by the success of the industry in the Bronx in NYC. Microbreweries there have done a lot to transform and regenerate the surrounding areas,” said architect Michael Gyifor, one of the trio who was involved in the project. “Because it’s on so many tube lines, Silvertown in Newsham is more of a transit space; we wanted to make it a destination.

“We were interested in the physical space partly because of the linear shape of the concrete columns, which were perfect for integrating a bowling alley; it’s quite a kitsch concept. The beers on offer are made from local hops, so it’s all locally sourced.”

“We wanted a serious contrast with the commuter surroundings,” said Chris Allen, who was also involved in the design. “Currently there is no social intersection in the area. We wanted to hint at its industrial heritage. We wanted it to be a space people could imagine brewing their own beer, not just a bar.”

Other projects were a little more avant-garde in nature, including a Victorian-inspired zoological gardens set in an abandoned gasworks in Bromley by Bow. Designed by David Wakefield of NGL Architects and Robert Nimms of Shephard Robson, this project was inspired by its site’s industrial past.

Animal pens are set inside colossal gas cylinders, while fish and pond life flood the areas surrounding the tanks. “The concept of using the gas cylinders was a nod to fossil fuels becoming redundant,” said Wakefield. “The location itself is situated on an isolated nest of motorway, so this would be a great way to bring together a fairly isolated community.”

“The use of the seven grade 2 listed gas cylinders is nostalgic, it refers to the site’s industrial heritage,” said Nimms, “The layout of the site compliments its Victorian era, the zoo – which is an iconic Victorian concept in itself, is strung around the gasworks like a necklace, with corridors and galleries coming off of the main cylinders.”

Revival features heavily in the project’s design. The site features a fishery and reservoir to feed the zoo animals within the flooded area between gasworks. This allows this area of the site to return to its former use, as this area was previously a lagoon. Faecal waste from the animals is also processed into biogas to power the zoo, again returning the site to its former use: creating fuel gas.

Rich said he hoped some of these projects might receive financial backing from investors in the future. “We hope some of these ideas become reality. The 147 entrants' projects are pioneering regeneration across the capital.”

The exhibition runs until 10 November, and is located in the crypt of Somerset House: the Deadhouse and Great Arch Lobby.

For more information, please visit the Somerset House website.

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