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Competition: Thessaly Road underpass, London

The London Festival of Architecture (LFA) has launched a design contest for a £200,000 overhaul of public spaces beneath Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south-west London (Deadline: 23 February)

Open to architects, designers, artists and students, the competition seeks proposals to transform the ‘ugly and unwelcoming’ underpass into an attractive and user-friendly route for pedestrians and cyclists.

The project – backed by Wandsworth Council – aims to create a new high-quality gateway to the Nine Elms Vauxhall regeneration zone which will see its centrepiece, Kieran Timberlake £750 million US Embassy, officially open next month. The winner will take home £20,000 and see their scheme installed in time for next year’s LFA.

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

Source: Image by Luke O’Donovan

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

Festival director Tamsie Thomson said: ‘London’s built environment is full of overlooked and unprepossessing spaces like Thessaly Road railway bridge, and this competition is a brilliant opportunity to show how thoughtful and imaginative design can transform the mundane into something quite special.

‘At the London Festival of Architecture, we are grateful to Wandsworth Council for providing this opportunity to showcase architectural and design excellence in London, and demonstrate the power of design in transforming London’s public realm.’

Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia said: ‘We are delighted to be working with the London Festival of Architecture in finding an innovative solution to improving the bridge space in Thessaly Road and I am really looking forward to seeing the winning design. We have a long-standing association with the LFA and it’s good to be in partnership with them again on this project.

‘The Thessaly Road underpass is much used by people in the local area but I think it’s fair to say that it’s definitely in need of a facelift. This competition is a great opportunity to do just that and, knowing the creative talent that is out there, I am sure we will find a design that will revitalise this key route through Nine Elms.’

Thessaly Road connects the major thoroughfares of Nine Elms Lane and Wandsworth Road. The 1km-long road is closed to through-traffic but is a popular route for pedestrians and cyclists. The project aims to identify fresh ideas for the underpass while also generating a flagship solution that could be harnessed for other similar sites across the capital.

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

Source: Image by Luke O’Donovan

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

Proposals may harness lighting, painting, graphic design or tiling and should aim to deliver a low-maintenance solution to improve aesthetics, access and safety under the bridge. Submissions must consider sustainability and be resistant to all weather conditions.

Judges include Thomson; Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership head of culture Anne Mullins; Pam Alexander, chair of the Covent Garden Market Authority; Studio Myerscough founder Morag Myerscough; and Clare Richards, founder of Footwork.

Applications should include a team biography, 200-word practice description, and 300 words explaining your interest in the project and initial reactions to the brief.

Six shortlisted teams – due to be announced in March – will receive £500 each to develop concept designs. The overall winner will receive £20,000 to further develop their designs which will be installed in time for next year’s LFA.

How to apply

Deadline

The deadline for applications is 23 February

Contact details

Email: admin@londonfestivalofarchitecture.org

Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Tamsie Thomson

The director of the London Festival of Architecture discusses her ambitions for the competition

Tamsie Thomson

Tamsie Thomson

Tamsie Thomson

Why are your holding a contest to rethink the Thessaly Road Railway Bridge underpass?

The London Festival of Architecture has a track record of using simple interventions to bring about improvements to the public realm, such as our temporary closure and enlivening of Exhibition Road in 2008, which led to lasting, positive change in South Kensington.

Thessaly Road railway bridge is a piece of overlooked infrastructure, but part of an important route for local people as well as a gateway to the huge regeneration that’s taking place around Battersea. Local residents have wanted to see improvements to their public realm for years, and we’re very keen to deliver something that can meet their needs as well as demonstrate how thoughtful and imaginative design can transform the mundane into something quite special. An open call to architects, artists, designers and students is the best way of finding what ideas are out there. The fact that it’s open to international participation says something too: just because something is as ordinary as an underpass why shouldn’t it be worthy of world-class design?

What is your vision for future of the underpass?

We want a design that can improve the appearance and feel of the bridge, and improve a key route for pedestrians and cyclists. Proposals could include any appropriate robust creative solution, for example lighting, painting, graphic design or tiling on both the bridge façade and the underpass beneath. The winning design must be practical to allow inspections and maintenance of the bridge, and will require approval from Network Rail and Wandsworth Council.

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

Source: Image by Luke O’Donovan

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

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

It’s an open call – we would welcome entries from anyone or any team that think they can make a difference. It’s a fantastic opportunity for emerging talent, and it’s also an opportunity for more established practices or practitioners to branch out and work at a very different scale and context. A crucial point is that we need architects and designers who can work with local people to meet their needs and aspirations for their public realm. Following development of the winning design, it will be eligible for installation as part of the London Festival of Architecture in 2019, with all the exposure that comes with that. The LFA’s Dulwich Pavilion project in 2017 was transformational for IF_DO – this could have a similar impact in 2019.

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

We do have some other plans up our sleeve so watch this space! At the London Festival of Architecture, we’re very good at running successful design competitions so we’re always on the lookout for new collaborations with local authorities, developers and landowners.

Are there any other similar underpass revitalisation projects you have been impressed by?

No underpasses spring to mind, and in a way that’s the point. Just because a structure’s primary purpose is practical or mundane doesn’t mean it cannot be beautiful. In fact, there should be an imperative to design ‘ordinary’ infrastructure well because people interact with it more often than many things in their everyday lives. There are some great examples, such as the London Olympic Substation by NORD, and we want to capture that ability of design to lift the spirit here.

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

Source: Image by Luke O’Donovan

Thessaly Road Railway Bridge in Nine Elms, south west London

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