The practice has had the unique opportunity of working for one client, Coin Street Community Builders (CSCB), in one part of London for over 30 years, achieving a range of projects that have enhanced the environment for local people and cultural organisations and businesses. This work began in the mid-1990s when we won a competition to design the imaginative, mixed-use redevelopment of Oxo Tower Wharf. Post-war development on the South Bank had paid little attention to the areas between building plots, so CSCB led the way in gathering together local owners and stakeholders into a powerful organisation known as the South Bank Employers’ Group (SBEG) to create an urban design strategy for the area.
For the South Bank Urban Design Strategy, we set various strategic goals that included the improvement of the environment, public transport and pedestrian access; new and improved community facilities; appropriate retail; reinforcement of the area’s identity through signage and street furniture; the activation of dead frontages and street level activity; management and maintenance of the public realm; maximising the riverside walkway; and the creation of greater interaction between major corporations and the public. Key to the success of the strategy was the knowledge of and continuous involvement with local people and their communities, resulting in masterplanning that addressed public needs, environment and movement as well as commercial development plans.
The result was a ‘menu’ of over 40 opportunities that enhanced the public realm and community amenities in the area and appealed to different local champions. They were projects that could be phased in a variety of sequences as funding became available, as well as temporary buildings and uses, public events and activities to create identity and activity ahead of development. Projects ranged from small interventions such as open-air sports pitches and changing rooms or improvements to indoor community sports facilities; public realm projects for road calming and street planting, public squares and spaces; also ideas for better linking of the South Bank to neighbouring communities and places including the notion of new bridges across the Thames. Our practice subsequently went on to design and deliver over half these projects from the humble, all-weather sports ground at Paris Gardens to the spectacular Golden Jubilee pedestrian bridges slung off Charing Cross Railway Bridge.
This ensured the economic viability of the area was linked to the burgeoning community through the improvements to shared urban spaces, but also the creation of businesses, jobs, local arts and culture strategies. The development of the South Bank has not simply repaired a damaged place in the heart of London and created an attractive district for workers and visitors; it has become an exemplar for our practice that demonstrates what can be achieved when you listen to people and together with them embark on change.