Ever since London’s Southbank Centre and Feilden Clegg Bradley revealed plans for the new ‘Festival Wing‘ earlier this year, the plans have come under fire – and by no group more vociferous than London’s skateboarders.
The original plans proposed converting the space under Hungerford Bridge, used by skateboarders for years, into a new riverside area for urban arts. In response to skateboarders’ outcry, Southbank Centre has decided to alter the design of the space so that skateboarders’ needs will be taken into account. The Centre commissioned Iain Borden, skater and Professor of Architecture and Urban Culture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, and Rich Holland, skater and architectural designer at Floda31 to prepare a draft design brief earlier this summer; now, three architectural practices with skate-space experience have responded to the brief with three potential designs.·
An expert panel of skaters, including Borden, Holland, and film-maker Winstan Whitter, will then be responsible for “selecting the architect they’d most like to work with, finalising the design brief and developing the design.”
Beyond outlining the basic requirements – mainly that the space be “at least 10% larger than the existing site in the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft, free, permanent, open 24/7, and with equal visibility of approximately 10 million people a year” – the architects’ design brief also set out the following suggested qualities, which would allow the space to be utilized by both skateboarders as well as the public in general:
- It should not look like an explicitly-designed or purpose-built skatepark.
- It should not have any skatepark form, for example full pipes or large transitions.
- It should be urban and gritty in appearance, for example using materials commonly found in non-skatepark urban spaces, such as bricks, flagstone paving, granite, stone or rougher concrete surfaces.
- It should provide a distinctive overall design quality or character, which is open and transient.
- It should facilitate or encourage the site being appropriated or taken over by skateboarding and other urban arts;
- It should be highly visible to the public, whilst welcoming approaches which integrate the public within the space.
“The design by 42 Architects proposes the replacement of the existing ramp with a new ramp in the North East corner of the site and a significant flat-floor space bounded by various skateable banks, walls, ledges and steps. These create the possibility of a varied set of routes, movements and activities across the site. The design is further articulated by the angularity and juxtaposition of elements and by the inclusion of cracks across the flat floor. A demountable/accessible roof is proposed and the overall appearance is of a complex, yet coherent set of spaces with a strong atmospheric quality.”
“SNE Architects’ design proposes the replacement of the existing ramp by a new ramp in the North East corner of the site. The rest of the site accommodates a large flat floor space bounded by various skateable banks, walls, ledges and steps, which create the possibility of a varied set of routes, movements and activities across the site. No roof is proposed – rain and water ingress is dealt with by a combination of bespoke guttering and under-floor heating. The overall appearance is minimal yet subtle.”
“Rich Architecture’s design proposes the retention of the existing ramp, which is partially cut underneath to provide access and visibility towards the North End. The rest of the site accommodates a large flat floor space, which can be inhabited by temporary skateable elements, bounded by a limited number of skateable banks, walls, ledges and steps. No roof is proposed – rain is dealt with by bespoke guttering. The overall appearance is of a ‘light touch’ approach, largely retaining the existing space in an as-found condition.”
Iain Borden, the co-writer of the design brief, has emphasized its un-finished nature, saying: “This is a unique approach to skateboarding in cities, which has never before been tried on this scale or intensity anywhere else in the world. I’m really excited by the potential of this space and look forward to working with representatives of the communities who will use this space in selecting an architectural route and further developing the brief.”
Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of Southbank Centre, seconded the sentiment: “These architects’ designs show what a great public urban space this could be. [...] We also understand that community sites like these are enormously enhanced by organic development through the use and input of the users themselves, which is why I emphasise that these designs are not set in stone. We welcome input from the skateboarders who regularly use the undercroft and any other skaters, graffiti writers or BMXers who want to be involved in helping develop the design.”
As part of the consultation for the Festival Wing, the designs will be shared with the community this weekend at an event at the Southbank Centre this weekend. More info here: www.southbankcentre.co.uk