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Competition: Silvertown Flyover, London

The London Festival of Architecture (LFA) has launched a design contest to transform a disused space beneath the Silvertown Flyover into a creative workspace (Deadline: 4 April)

The competition, aimed at emerging architects, seeks ‘viable and deliverable’ proposals to convert a series of unused spaces beneath a busy raised road next to WilkinsonEyre’s £30 million Siemens Crystal.

The project, backed by the Greater London Authority and London Borough of Newham, aims to boost opportunities for creative businesses in the Royal Docks area of the East End where 4,000 new homes and 650,000m² of fresh commercial space are planned.

Contest site: Silvertown Way, London

Contest site: Silvertown Way, London

Contest site: Silvertown Way, London

According to the brief: ‘A permeable space is needed that creates a distinct and attractive area, with a range of spaces for working, production and innovation, creating new employment opportunities for Newham residents and Londoners.

‘We also seek proposals that take into account the development coming forward in the area, including your ideas for interventions in the surrounding public realm and wayfinding interventions that improve legibility in the area. You should set out how your project might function as a key piece of connective infrastructure over the next two, five and ten years as surrounding development and infrastructure projects come forward for development.’

The Royal Albert Dock in 1955

The Royal Albert Dock in 1955

Source: Image by Ben Brooksbank

The Royal Albert Dock in 1955

The Royal Docks and surrounding area were constructed in the 1850s, and abandoned just over a century later. They have long been tipped as London’s next major regeneration opportunity. In 2012 the 170ha of land and 96ha of water was transformed into an enterprise zone, promoting a range of schemes including plans for a floating residential village.

Local landmarks include WilkinsonEyre’s new base for Siemens, dubbed ‘The Crystal’; the Excel exhibition centre, which was expanded by Grimshaw in 2010; and the competition-winning Royal Victoria Dock Bridge by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

Planned developments in the area include a £1 billion Asian Business Port masterplanned and designed by Terry Farrell with second stage concepts by Buckley Grey Yeoman, Fletcher Priest, Cartwright Pickard, Maccreanor Lavington and Panter Hudspith. Fletcher Priest Architects’ £3.5 billion regeneration scheme of Silvertown Quays also won planning in 2015.

The latest commission seeks to forge new connections between emerging spaces for creative businesses in the area, such as the Carlsberg Tetley building and Waterfront Studios.

In January, emerging Camberwell-based practice IF_DO won a separate LFA contest for a temporary events pavilion outside John Soane’s Grade II*-listed Dulwich Picture Gallery. The studio’s winning design will be constructed in time for the start of this year’s LFA on 1 June, and will mark the gallery’s 200th anniversary.

Contest site: Silvertown Way, London

Contest site: Silvertown Way, London

Contest site: Silvertown Way, London

Commenting on the latest contest launch, LFA director Tamsie Thomson said: ‘As well as encouraging people to look at London in different ways, the London Festival of Architecture has always sought to achieve positive and lasting changes to London’s public realm.

‘The Silvertown Flyover competition is a brilliant opportunity to engage fresh architectural talent and establish a creative reuse for this key location in the Royal Docks.’

James Murray, London deputy mayor for housing and residential development, added: ‘We are committed to working in partnership with the London Borough of Newham to invest in the Royal Docks to accelerate delivery of a new business district for London, creating up to 40,000 jobs and 4,000 homes.

‘The Silvertown Flyover design competition is a perfect way to mark the beginning of our exciting new partnership and will give emerging architects a brilliant opportunity to reshape a difficult yet fascinating space in London, and play a part in the ongoing transformation of the Royal Docks.’

Applicants should submit a brief team summary, expression of interest and initial project sketch on two A3-sized boards. Up to six shortlisted teams will then receive £500 each to participate in the competition’s design stage.

Competition judges include Chris Dyson of Chris Dyson Architects, Arts Council England London area director Joyce Wilson and the LFA’s Tamsie Thomson.

The winning team, set to be announced during the LFA in June, will work with the project backers to take the scheme forward. Shortlisted designs will also feature in a public exhibition during the festival.

The deadline for applications is midday on 4 April.

Q&A with Tamsie Thomson

The competition judge and London Festival of Architecture director reflects on the Silvertown Flyover commission

Tamsie Thomson

Tamsie Thomson

Tamsie Thomson

What is your vision for the new Silvertown Flyover creative business centre?

The Royal Docks is London’s ‘City in the East’ – an area with huge potential and one of the largest regeneration opportunities in London. We’re working with the Royal Docks partnership to promote the area as a vibrant new London quarter, with creative workspace an important part of the mix alongside thousands of new homes and jobs. It’s an energetic partnership of the GLA, London Borough of Newham, and developers First Base and Notting Hill Housing.

While east London is well established as a hub for artists and creative organisations, we know that they are under constant pressure of rising rents and a lack of affordable space. We’re looking for ideas that turn the flyover into a permeable space that creates a distinct and attractive area, with space for working, production and innovation, creating job opportunities for Newham residents and Londoners. An important point is that this competition is not only about using the flyover. It’s also looking to encourage thinking around how architects, artists and others can come together to bring similarly tricky corners of London to life in ways that benefit London’s creative sector.

How will the new facility relate to the Royal Docks’ existing landscape and its ongoing development?

The Royal Docks is about to undergo enormous physical and social change: planning permission has been secured for 4,000 homes and 7 million sq ft [650,000m²] of commercial development, including on the two key Royal Docks sites: Royal Albert Dock by Asian Business Ports, and Silvertown Quay by The Silvertown Partnership. Sadiq Khan has emphasised his commitment to improving access to dedicated, affordable creative workspace, and we agree with him that London should continue to be the cultural capital of the world.

What sort of architects are you hoping will apply?

We certainly don’t want to be too prescriptive. We’re encouraging emerging practices to apply, although we’d welcome submissions from a wide range of practitioners. So it’s an opportunity for smaller practices to team up with more established firms or have a go themselves. And we’d encourage multidisciplinary teams too – for example bringing in structural engineering or landscape design talent – as well as international firms.

Are there any other similar creative business workspace projects you have been impressed by?

Sarah Wigglesworth Architects has created a range of creative workspace units for SPACE Arts – light touch refurbishments of former industrial buildings. These completed in 2015 and have helped local artists to remain in east London in the face of rising rents and gentrification. Another great example is the Mill Co project by SODA, which is creating new workspace within the Royal Docks and has helped to influence our thinking in many ways. I’m also looking forward to seeing Peckham Levels by Carl Turner, which is due to complete later this year. It’s not far from where I live and I’m very interested to see how he’s bringing ideas forged at Pop Brixton to a no-nonsense south London car park.

Central Parade case study: Q&A with Jay Gort

The director of Gort Scott discusses lessons learned converting a 1960s landmark in Walthamstow, east London, into a creative business space

Jay Gort

Jay Gort

Jay Gort

How did your Central Parade project create a new mixed-use hub for creative businesses in Walthamstow?

Central Parade is a new cultural and creative enterprise hub in the heart of Walthamstow, which Gort Scott delivered in 2016. We worked closely with the council and in particular with the social enterprise Meanwhile Space, to design/ deliver a variety of spaces for small local businesses, including a café/ bakery, retail spaces for independent creative businesses, co-working desks available for short term rent, ‘incubator’ spaces for small start-up ‘maker’ shops to pilot new products or services, as well as basement studios which house among others a recording studio.

Working with Meanwhile Space was invaluable and we were also fortunate to secure the anchor tenant, Today Bread, an independent artisanal bakery, at an early design stage. It has proven to be a huge draw for people living in Walthamstow and the surrounding areas, which in turn has helped to bring footfall to the other businesses in the adjacent studios.

In the eyes of the client the project has been a real success, and there is a long waiting list to rent the ‘maker’ spaces, the tenants of which are changed every six months to maximise the number of businesses given an opportunity to establish themselves. The ongoing support and funding from the GLA and the council has been essential to the success of the project.

Walthamstow, London

Walthamstow, London

Central Parade by Gort Scott

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

We set out to provide a high-quality cost-efficient refurbishment of the 1960s former office building. Our approach was to strip back the cluttered interior of the existing building to expose the high-ceilings and large windows along the high street and create a mostly open-plan, naturally lit, flexible space. The design references the history of the building, taking inspiration from the decorative exterior treatments in the graphics developed especially for the project and the painted floor pattern used in the café/ bakery.

We employed a simple, economical material palette of painted steel and stained plywood to create an interior fit-out of maximum effect, including bespoke painted steel ceiling grids to create a datum and unity between the spaces and bespoke furniture for the cafe and co-woking spaces. The wall, floor and furniture stain and paint colours used were selected to complement the graphic identity developed for the project and to reinforce the design’s modern aesthetic.

Walthamstow, London

Walthamstow, London

Central Parade by Gort Scott

What advice would you give on designing a creative workspace beneath the Silvertown Flyover?

Consider the different types of working spaces and who the users of the creative hub will be. What are the specific needs for the different communities around Silvertown? With decreasing levels of office space in London, especially outer london (due to permitted development laws), and people’s changing work habits, there is a real need for designers to think critically about new ways of providing workspace. How can workspaces be flexible and efficient, while also being imaginative characterful and great places to work in?

Walthamstow, London

Walthamstow, London

Central Parade by Gort Scott