The London Festival of Architecture (LFA) has launched an international contest to design a temporary maypole on the Strand in the heart of the capital (Deadline: 13 September)
Open to architects, artists, designers and engineers, the Modern Maypole competition seeks proposals for a new pop-up landmark to form the centrepiece of next year’s festival and provide a contemporary focus for ‘expressions of communal identity and shared experience’.
The project – backed by The Northbank BID – follows the completion of a competition-winning events pavilion by IF_DO for this year’s LFA outside John Soane’s Grade II*-listed Dulwich Picture Gallery. YOU&ME Architecture has also been named winner of a separate LFA contest to transform a disused space beneath the Silvertown Flyover into a creative workspace this week.
The ancient maypole on The Strand
LFA director Tamsie Thomson said: ‘The London Festival of Architecture is all about encouraging architects and the public to look at London in new and interesting ways, and exploring how we can make London a better place.
‘The Modern Maypole is a great opportunity to look afresh at a prominent London location while reinventing a lost London tradition. We have an excellent track record of organising successful design competitions – such as this year’s phenomenally successful Dulwich Pavilion – and I’m looking forward to seeing how participants in the Modern Maypole competition rise to our challenge.’
Contest site: St Mary le Strand
Source: Image by The Northbank BID
The Strand is a major 1.2km-long thoroughfare in central London connecting Temple Bar to Trafalgar Square. The area was home to many aristocrats from the 12th to 17th centuries and is now famous for its bars, restaurants, theatres and historic churches such as St Mary le Strand and St Clement Danes.
The largest maypole in London was erected on The Strand in 1660 to mark the restoration of the monarchy after the English Civil War. The tall wooden structure – which originated in paganism and Medieval culture – was a centrepiece of folk celebrations in the city before falling in a storm in 1672.
The competition aims to create a contemporary maypole on the site of the original landmark outside St Mary le Strand. The winning scheme, to be announced in December, will be constructed in time for next year’s festival.
Competition judges include Thomson, Julia Barfield, managing director of Marks Barfield Architects; Carole Boyd, who plays Lynda Snell in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers; Somerset House Trust director Jonathan Reekie; and Ruth Duston, chief executive of The Northbank BID.
How to apply
The deadline for applications is 13 September
Visit the competition website for more information
Q&A with Ruth Duston
The chief executive of Northbank BID discusses her ambitions for the competition
Why are your holding an international design contest for a Modern Maypole on The Strand?
The purpose of the Modern Maypole is to create a temporary landmark and a focus for public events in the Northbank district during the London Festival of Architecture 2018. The Northbank is an area of huge cultural significance, and the Modern Maypole will be a brilliant way of attracting interest in and visitors to the district. The proposed site on The Strand was home to London’s tallest maypole until the early 18th century, so the competition is an imaginative use of contemporary design to connect London’s heritage with the present time.
The Northbank BID is one of the principal patrons of the London Festival of Architecture, which has a fine track record of organising design competitions to champion architecture in London and to get people – Londoners and visitors alike – to look at the city in new and different ways. The Dulwich Pavilion by IF_DO – the result of a LFA competition for this year’s festival – has been a huge success, and we hope that the Modern Maypole will be one of the highlights of the 2018 festival.
We would love to see international participation in the project. London’s architecture sector – like the Northbank – is a magnet for global talent and there’s no reason why overseas designers shouldn’t offer their take on a maypole - something that at first sight seems quintessentially English but which in fact has resonances in many other countries. And the more entries the better: a maypole is much more than a stick in the street – let’s see how many interpretations we can get.
The ancient maypole on The Strand
Source: Image by The Trustees of the British Museum
What is your vision for the new landmark?
We don’t want to offer a prescriptive vision of what the Modern Maypole should look like. But as well as something viable we would like to see something that can be very visible, appealing and capable of acting as a focus for a wide range of public events during June 2018. History can tell us what earlier maypoles looked like and how they functioned as locations for communal activity and shared experience: we would like entrants to consider whether and how their appearance and function might manifest themselves in 21st-century London.
The original Strand Maypole was enormous at 134 feet high, and contemporary prints show it towering over the city when its only competitors were church spires: a neat metaphor for their medieval function as secular distractions (much to the annoyance of the church which practically wiped out London’s maypoles after the reformation). London’s skyline has altered radically then, so entrants will need to consider how the maypole ought to respond to London’s current streetscape and modern day distractions.
The site outside the church of St Mary le Strand is relatively small, so that is something that entrants will need to bear in mind. We haven’t set a height limit – although any winning design will need to meet Westminster City Council planning policy and we will be working closely with the winning team and Westminster City Council to negotiate planning consent in due course.
We’re excited to find out how entrants can bring architectural innovation to what seems like a simple brief. It’s a prominent site so quality will be a key criterion, and we’ll be interested to see how entrants address any sustainability issues - whether that relates to materials or re-usability. The original Strand maypole ended up being taken away by Isaac Newton to mount a telescope in Wanstead: perhaps we’ll see other unusual ideas for legacy uses.
The ancient maypole on The Strand
Source: Image by Look and Learn, Peter Jackson Collection
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
The competition is open to architects, artists, designers and engineers – whether acting by themselves or within teams. It’s open to young or emerging practitioners as well as established firms. The end result will be a very prominent element of next year’s London Festival of Architecture which, as Europe’s largest annual architecture event, brings with it huge opportunities for exposure with this year’s festival reaching millions of people in the UK and worldwide. No architect to date has yet made their name with a maypole – until now!
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
The Northbank BID has been working with Publica and numerous partners, including members of the local community, to revitalise the public realm around Aldwych. As a burgeoning hub of cultural activity and its links to the rest of the West End, it’s important to soften the impact of the traffic and open up footways. The process of completion is still in discussion and will more likely rely on a traditional tender process rather than a public competition but we are excited to see how the project develops. There are other ongoing greening interventions across the area to further our efforts to improve public spaces, increase biodiversity and reduce air pollution.
Are there any other interactive public realm projects you have been impressed by?
The Northbank district includes Trafalgar Square, where the Fourth Plinth project has become an established and high profile stage for creative talent, drawing artists and others from all over the world to make their mark on London’s built environment. There’s no reason why the Modern Maypole competition couldn’t be a similar focus for architectural talent in 2018 on a similarly prominent site.
Simple gestures can often have an enormously positive effect, and there are Northbank precedents: think of the decision to remove car parking from the Somerset House courtyard, thus revealing one of London’s lost and most beautiful spaces. The Maypole site can sometimes be overlooked, and here’s a chance to revive it.
Looking a little further from home, the Spire of Dublin by Ian Ritchie Architects is a great example of a relatively simple concept being used to refresh a prominent public space, reflect on the city’s past and present identity, and to encourage people to look at part of the city in new ways. I hope we’ll be able to do something similar with the Modern Maypole.