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Competition: Old Street Gateway, London

Islington Council has launched a contest for a £1 million transformation of Old Street Roundabout in central London (Deadline: 29 January)

Open to multidisciplinary teams of architects, artists, designers and technologists, the competition seeks ‘exciting, bold and iconic’ proposals for a new gateway structure or public artwork reflecting the area’s identity as a hub for digital innovation.

The project is part of ambitious plans to close the north-western arm of the congested roundabout to create a new pedestrian plaza and entrance to the busy underground station. It is supported by the mayor of London, Transport for London (TfL) and Hackney Council. Proposals may exceed the £1 million budget if suitable options for additional funding are identified by the applicant.

Old Street Roundabout

Old Street Roundabout

Source: Image by TfL Tom Eames

Old Street Roundabout

Islington Council executive member for environment and transport Claudia Webbe said: ‘The transformation of Old Street will hugely improve the area for pedestrians, public transport users, cyclists and people who live and work nearby.

‘Old Street is an iconic location known around the world, and a powerful symbol of what is also known as Tech City. This is a unique opportunity for an exciting, bold, iconic gateway. We are looking for innovative and inspiring ideas, which tap into the pioneering spirit of creativity for which Old Street is so famous.’

Transport for London managing director of surface transport Leon Daniels said: ‘The radical redesign of Old Street roundabout will help achieve our shared objectives of improved air quality, reduced car dependency and more active travel.

‘The open call for design ideas will ensure that vast array of creative talent that exists in London, especially in the Old Street area, can play a part in redesigning the area so that the local community, and people who work in or visit the area, benefit from a truly inspiring new public space.’

Old Street Roundabout is on the boundary of the London boroughs of Hackney and Islington at the junction of Old Street and City Road. It was created in the 1960s as part of an inner-city road improvement programme.

The complex – also known as the Silicon Roundabout and St Agnes Well – includes a sub-surface shopping centre and station ticket hall, and a rooftop bar. The surrounding area is well known for its density of high-tech startups, though the junction itself has been the site of many cycling accidents.

Five years ago Architecture 00 mooted plans to transform the roundabout into a ‘start-up city’. Alma-nac, Ben Adams Architects, Buckley Gray Yeoman, Farrells, Hawkins\Brown also participated in a separate ideas-only call for concepts three years ago.

The latest project is part of plans to close the north-western arm of the roundabout and reintroduce two-way traffic. The closure – due to be implemented in 2019 – will create a pedestrianised peninsula and an improved entrance to the underground station, along with segregated cycle lanes and crossings.

Proposals must take account of the planned new station entrance and the existing station roof, tube ventilation shafts and advertising structures to create a new ‘iconic gateway’ and public space for the area.

Submissions should include two A1-sized boards featuring conceptual proposals along with a site analysis and a 500-word description of the scheme. Longlisted entries will feature in a public exhibition in February and a shortlist of the best ideas will be announced in mid-March.

How to apply

Deadline

The deadline for applications is midday, 29 January

Contact details

Email: oldstreet@islington.gov.uk

Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Claudia Webbe

Islington Council’s executive member for environment and transport discusses her ambitions for the contest

Claudia Webbe

Claudia Webbe

Claudia Webbe

Why are your holding an open call for ideas to transform the Old Street Roundabout?

The Old Street Roundabout is world-famous for its ‘Tech City’ and ‘Silicon Roundabout’ identity, and is being transformed as work starts next year to remove its outdated gyratory. This transformation will hugely improve the area for pedestrians, public-transport users, cyclists and people who live and work nearby. It will create a new peninsula and public spaces, and this is a unique opportunity for an exciting, bold, iconic gateway for Old Street. We have looked for the best way to bring forward as many creative ideas as possible to transform this space, which is why we have put out an open call for design ideas, to bring forward the best possible ideas for the site and reimagine the space to create an ‘iconic gateway’.

What is your vision for the new gateway?

This vision for the Old Street Iconic Gateway is to create a landmark embracing public art and ‘Smart City’ innovation, which will complement the improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users resulting from the wider transformation scheme. The main objectives include supporting the mayor of London’s ‘Healthy Streets’ objectives; creating an innovative and high-quality design; making the space feel ‘greener’ and more inclusive of the local community; and engaging with digital media and technology. The scope of the site for the open call is not only the roundabout itself, but the areas adjacent in all directions. Many of the ideas that we expect to come forward are likely to require planning permission eventually, as we hope designers will go beyond standard street furniture and highway ideas.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We are calling on architects, landscape architects, urban designers, public art specialists, placemakers, urban planners, transport planners, lighting designers, wayfinding experts, engineers, smart cities experts, technology specialists (just to name a few). We welcome firms and teams of any size, including SMEs and start-ups, and combinations of small and established firms. Above all, we strongly encourage multidisciplinary collaboration and partnerships with a view to generating innovative, dynamic design ideas, and potentially unlocking additional funding or sponsorship opportunities.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

The open call for design ideas is not a procurement process, and how the project is taken forward will depend on the quality of the ideas received. Islington Council and its partners TfL and Hackney Council are all involved in a range of public realm and architecture schemes.

Are there any recent public realm gateway projects you have been impressed by?

Old Street has its own unique identity and constraints, and entrants would be best placed to look at the existing context in which Old Street Roundabout currently sits and draw inspiration from the vibrant community surrounding it. Ultimately, in the quest to create the Old Street Iconic Gateway, we are looking for proposals that present the kind of public space that is badly needed for the residents, workers, commuters and visitors in this renowned area of London.

Elephant and Castle roundabout case study: Q&A with Stephen Witherford

The director of Witherford Watson Mann discusses lessons learned creating a new pedestrian peninsula at Elephant and Castle roundabout

How will your project transform Elephant and Castle roundabout into a pedestrian-friendly civic space?

One of the ‘legacies’ of the 2012 Olympics for London was Transport for London’s discovery that the cities ‘inner ring’ did not come to a grinding halt when reduced in capacity to accommodate the ‘emergency lanes’. This enabled TfL to carry out modelling on the removal of the northern roundabout and create a peninsula with two-way working traffic flows and segregated cycle lanes. This proved the catalyst for the re-evaluation of how this highly engineered landscape could support public life. We developed a proposal that drew together the alignment of the upper-levels of the post-war buildings with new developments that we imagined would come forward in the future (the shopping centre and Skipton House).

Elephant and Castle roundabout by Witherford Watson Mann

Elephant and Castle roundabout by Witherford Watson Mann

Elephant and Castle roundabout by Witherford Watson Mann

These large buildings defined a London square, not dissimilar in dimension to Bloomsbury Square, with abundant sunlight. Within this square are located the fragments that have resisted demolition: the Bakerloo Line ticket hall, Faraday Memorial and mature trees. To these we added a new pavilion housing a café, a place for market stalls, additional trees, planters and benches. High on a column, at the point in space that it had originally occupied on the Elephant and Castle pub, we proposed relocating the original bronze elephant. The combined effect is to break the idea that the only way to occupy this place is to pass through it as you interchange between the Underground, buses and trains via narrow footways and subways, and to create places to linger, meet and relax.

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

In order to develop proposals, we researched historical maps and photos, held conversations with people who know and live at the Elephant and Castle and used a range of two and three dimensional explorations: simple diagrams, three-dimensional sketches of the experience of occupying the spaces, in-house renderings and a physical model.

Elephant and Castle roundabout by Witherford Watson Mann

Elephant and Castle roundabout by Witherford Watson Mann

Elephant and Castle roundabout by Witherford Watson Mann

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a new Old Street Gateway?

Be very clear with the commissioning and working client of the role and scope of the architect and who is responsible for the detailed design, as the Elephant and Castle became a design and build project. The moving of the project between different client teams served to fragment the decision making at the Elephant and Castle and you can feel that in the quality of what was built. Be clear on who will politically support/lead on the transformation to make a meaningful public place and the roles of any private developers in influencing or delivering any part of this design.

Elephant and Castle roundabout by Witherford Watson Mann

Elephant and Castle roundabout by Witherford Watson Mann

Source: Image by Marshalls

Elephant and Castle roundabout by Witherford Watson Mann

Old Street Green case study: Q&A with Alma-nac

The London practice discusses lessons learned participating in an earlier ideas contest for the roundabout

How did your project envision transforming Old Street roundabout into a pedestrian-friendly civic space?

Alma‐nac was one of five architect practices invited to put forward a proposal for the redevelopment of Old Street Roundabout on behalf of Icon magazine. We wanted to turn Old Street Roundabout from a transient space into a destination. The roundabout has so many layered requirements and identities, not all readily miscible or even desired. A station, a roundabout, a crossroads, a gateway to a series of distinct parts of London, a cyclist’s hell. We proposed separating some of these uses, while simultaneously addressing the lack of fun. We set out to create a space for festivals, for picnics, for local community and activity. We proposed an urban green to act as an epicentre filling what is now a transient space.

Old Street Green by Alma-nac

Old Street Green by Alma-nac

Source: Image by Peter Landers

Old Street Green by Alma-nac

The Old Street Green proposal provided a new framework for occupation within London, elevating people, interaction and activity away from cars and busses. We wanted to celebrate this separation, the contrasting uses of the crossroads being expressed in full, and use it to create a safe enclave in the midst of the city. The green is filled with structures that form the backdrop to a multitude of recreational uses. Structures to contain events, to separate spaces, for projecting on, presenting from, climbing over and sheltering under. A space for multi‐generational play. A place for escape in the centre of a busy crossroads.

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

Ultimately the Old Street Green is an exercise in colour, form and fun based around the brief of a meeting place. Alma‐nac borrowed the language of festivity to stamp an identity onto this part of Old Street. We borrowed from the language of the fair; the bright contrasting colours, the cluster of unique elements all encompassing the structural methodology of the stage rig. We also looked into the language and nature of play – both in theory and language. We drew on the language of the adventure playground, with brightly coloured pavilions linked by weaving paths, all set within a park environment. But we were also interested in the theory of designing play space within the urban environment – creating spaces of non‐prescribed play, with the capacity for the forming of soft thresholds within a wider shared space, encouraging multiple groups over multiple generations to share the use of the space at any one time.

Old Street Green by Alma-nac

Old Street Green by Alma-nac

Old Street Green by Alma-nac

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a new Old Street Gateway?

Obviously look into the multitude of user groups who share a need for a space in this location. Don’t overlook some of the quieter residential requirement for the headline needs of the Silicon Roundabout businessman, or the hipster tourist. Look carefully at the needs of children. If you haven’t already, read the recently published report published by Arup on the importance of designing child-friendly cities. And don’t forget the need for some fun.

Old Street Green by Alma-nac

Old Street Green by Alma-nac

Source: Image by Peter Landers

Old Street Green by Alma-nac

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