This video review of the QE Olympic 2012 Park, by Robert Holden and Tom Turner, comprises a discussion on 29th June and video footage taken on 29th and 30th June. Mainly a review of the master planning, the two landscape architects spent too little time on the park’s often-very-good detailed design. Our fundamental point is that ‘the landscape planning is much better than the landscape design’. The landscape planning includes the opening up of the River Lea in the northern section of the park, the habitat-creation strategy and the park’s excellent links with its hinterland. The landscape design is dominated by vast pedestrian concourses which will be busy during events but will resemble unused airport runways on every other occasion. There is some good garden-type planting but it has not been used to make ‘gardens’: it is used more like strips of planting beside highways.
The designers were EDAW/Aecom, LDA Design with George Hargreaves.
The traffic lanes in Oxford Street have been narrowing for 40 years, with the sidewalks being widened and regularly re-paved. Use of the street by private vehicles is restricted and use by diesel-powered commercial vehicles is increasing. Last week the Evening Standard reported that ‘Traders today said urgent action was needed to slash traffic levels after a report revealed Oxford Street has the highest levels of a toxic pollutant in the world. The mayor is facing demands to reduce the build-up of the “wall of buses” after a monitor installed by scientists showed high levels of nitrogen dioxide – linked with asthma and heart attacks.’
The solution should be ‘NO HALF MEASURES’. Creating a ‘good shopping landscape’ should be the 100% priority. This will require (1) pedestrian movement to be prioritized (2) electric vehicles only to be permitted (3) far more planting (4) the use of glazed canopies over sidewalks should be encouraged.
I am happy to point to Nanjing Road Shanghai 南京路 as an example of how Oxford Street should be managed.
The problem, of course, is what to do with the buses and taxis? My answer is that they should be progressively excluded from Central London, to be replaced by underground trains, small electric vehicles and bicycles. Taxis are likely to be electric powered before long – because a Chinese company is now making the black cabs and this is its plan. Buses carrying passengers on long-distance journeys should be excluded from the central zone. Travelers can use non-polluting vehicles to reach the fringe of the zone and then continue their journeys by other means. These policies are related to Colin Buchanan’s proposals for Traffic In Towns but modified in response to the increase in London’s population, the growth of cycling, the availability of electric vehicles, the need for fuel economy and a better understanding of the health risks arising from noxious pollution. The Wiki article on Oxford Street has attractive photographof the street in 1875 and its progressive debasement.
Zaha Hadid: ‘Personally, Robin Hood Gardens is one of my favourite projects.’ Richard Rogers: ‘It has heroic scale with beautiful human proportions and has a magical quality. It practically hugs the ground, yet it has also a majestic sense of scale, reminiscent of a Nash terrace.’ Simon Smithson: ‘I believe Robin Hood Gardens to be the most significant building completed by my parents. ‘ Tom Turner: ‘Sao Paolo could learn a lot from the Smithsons’ approach to planning urban landscape’
Here are 3 videos, by Alison and Peter Smithson, by Jonathan Glancey and by me. I am impressed by the Smithsons and in full agreement with Glancey that (1) I would not choose to live there (2) the scheme should not be demolished – as has been decided (3) it should become student housing, because it is so well suited to communal use. The Smithsons account of the scheme justifies slapping a preservation order on Robin Hood Gardens. The English Heritage commissioners were right about the building architecture being mediocre: the elevations are elegant but the roofs are leaking, the concrete is spalling so that the rebars are exposed, the stairways are pokey, the balconies are usable only for drying clothes (so the residents protect them with bird netting) and a ‘street in the air’ (often with hoodies) is not a nice thing to have outside your living room window. BUT the site planning is excellent. London’s ‘tower blocks’ are usually planned like tombstones in plots of grass. The Smithsons protected against noise and used their buildings, as in London’s Georgian Squares, to define and create outdoor space. I have never seen their hill well used but attribute this to its not being a safe protected space. I also agree with their comment, on the video, that using Robin Hood Gardens as a ‘sink estate’ was not wise. Both these mistakes can be attributed to the housing managers: Tower Hamlets Borough Council. So what should be done now? (1) keep the Smithsons excellent site planning (2) implement Glancey’s idea if it feasible – and convert the buildings for use by a student community (3) otherwise, replace their shoddy architecture with better buildings on the same footprint (4) manage the central space as a garden, instead of as a public park.
Alison Smithson has a strange manner and makes some strange remarks (eg ‘Any African state would have as good a chance of joining the Common Market as London’). But the two of them speak wisely about what should happen to London Docklands.
Jonathan Glancey presents a well-reasoned and well-balanced account of the design.
Very nice to see the Chelsea Fringe going from strength to strength. It began in London and this year it has events in in London, Brighton, Bristol, Vienna, Ljubljana, Turin, Kent, Norwich and online.
My only criticism is of the Chelsea Fringe website. The graphics are fine but it does not seem to have been user-tested. I find:
- the search facility far too complicated
- the search returns repetitive
- the website unhelpful for finding a group of events in a visitable geographical area
What the Fringe needs is a sponsor which could provide a user-friendly website. It could be great publicity for the firm.
This year, I was lucky to pick up a leaflet for the Nine Elms contribution to the Chelsea Fringe. It was a paper map with a list of events. Wonderful! But I would have been just as happy to download it as a pdf.
Londoner’s require a right to roam on London’s beaches and, wherever possible, a public access route along the entire foreshore.
The Port of London Authority PLA does not encourage access because it was set up to manage the port, commercially, for maritime shipping. It gives safety considerations as a reason for not spending money on public goods. But the Seven Sisters Country Park is a much more dangerous place and is managed for recreation, conservation and wildlife. My suggestion is to transfer the amenity responsibilities of the PLA to a Landscape Agency and to bring both bodies within the GLA Greater London Authority family of public authorities. Construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel will make the water much cleaner and the beaches more desirable.
by Tom Turner @ 10:55 am May 8, 2014 --
Filed under:Urban Design
Modernism, said Charles Jencks, died with the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in Chicago.
Post-modernism appears to be dying with the demolition of Marco Polo House in London (see video).
Post-postmodern (Post-POMO) design may arrive when designers recover the confidence to blend reason with beliefs eg in Vitruvius’ design objectives: design should be functional, multi-objective, sustainable and meaningful.
There was something really good about modernism, because design should be functional.
And there was something really good about postmodernism, because design should be multi-valent.
But something will always be missing if design is based on reason alone: for Commodity, Firmness and Delight, designers must also hold beliefs.
PS of these three words, the most problematic is ‘Delight’. It suggests the type of pleasure you get from a pudding, like Raspberry Delight, rather than the more serious objectives which have led the development of the arts from century to century.
It is good to have
- scenic drama, with the route planned by a landscape architect
- emotional music, planned by a musical director and extending along the whole route
- a persuasive narrative, with speeches by children, activists and politicians
- good co-opration from the police
- jokes, fun and glamour
- good supporting information on a website, with facts, figures and international comparisons
And it’s good to reflect that ‘Power must be taken, it is never given’. (William Powell)
The 2013 London bicycle die-in was good on music and drama but not so good on speeches.
The 2014 POP Pedal On Parliament in Edinburgh was good in all respects.
by Tom Turner @ 5:06 am May 1, 2014 --
Filed under:Urban Design
Red Road Flats Glasgow – architecture and landscape
Glasgow had the witty idea of blowing up the last of the Red Road Flats to celebrate the opening of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. There was an outcry, a petition and they decided not to do it. But the flats are still doomed and we have to keep asking ‘what went wrong’. Auberon Waugh (see quote below) blames the architectural profession. I see Sam Bunton & Associates as accessories to the ‘crime’ but believe the main responsibility lies with the client body: Glasgow Corporation. Instead of giving poor people ‘housing’ they should have given those people the money they needed to buy or rent accommodation. The socialist principle was well-intentioned but mistaken. I remember visiting Glasgow ‘estates’, like the Red Road, in the 1960s and finding the ‘landscape areas’ between the blocks strewn with broken glass. I do not know what they had been smashing but there must have been a lot of it. In recent years the blocks have been occupied by asylum seekers. 1 June 1985 The great joy of London Docklands Development may be that no-one will ever see it. A stretch of the desolate East End is being given over to whatever monstrosities the architects can devise – vast concrete prisons rising from a windswept cemented plain decorated with notices and litter bins. It might be specially designed as a recreation area for vandals in search of a telephone box, sex maniacs in search of a public lavatory. But it is a part of London where I have never been and I can’t honestly think of any reason why I should ever wish to go there. If architects could be persuaded to practice their filthy trade only in places like the the Isle of Dogs, then there might be some hope for the bit of England that survives. Another good policy to adopt towards architects is, if you meet anyone in a pub or at a party who says he is an architect, punch him in the face. [quote from Kiss Me, Chudleigh: the world according to Auberon Waugh by William Cook (2010)]
Had I happened upon this image on the web, I would have guessed it was in East Asia. So one wonders: will the Chinese be thinking about dynamiting places like this in a few decades time? I think they will, and some of the credit will belong to Michael Wolf’s work on the Architecture of Density.
QE Park Olympic Village: the charming lane with its rustic cottages
Making an Olympic Village in the Lea Valley’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was a delightful idea. I love to stroll along a village high street. At dawn one hears the cocks crow and sees the milkmaids setting off for work. The crooked old streets have banks of wild flowers. On a summer’s eve the children play and God, one thinks, must have been in a very good mood when he made this place. Poetry fills one’s heart as one rushes to put down a deposit. Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?
*** Nestling amid the trees we see the manor-house, the
abode of the squire, an ancient dwelling-place of Tudor or
Jacobean design, surrounded by a moat, with a good terrace-
walk in front, and a formal garden with fountain and sun-
dial and beds in arabesque. It seems to look down upon
the village with a sort of protecting air. Near at hand are
some old farm-houses, nobly built, with no vain pretension
about them. Carefully thatched ricks and barns and stables
and cow-sheds stand around them.
[Peter Hampson Ditchfield]
*** Sweet Olympic! loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheer’d the labouring swain,
Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
And parting summer’s lingering blooms delay’d:
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
How often have I loiter’d o’er thy green,
Where humble happiness endear’d each scene!
How often have I paus’d on every charm,
The shelter’d cot, the cultivated farm,
The never-failing brook, the busy mill,
The decent church that topt the neighbouring hill,
The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
For talking age and whisp’ring lovers made!
*** The Village Life, and every care that reigns
O’er youthful peasants and declining swains;
What labour yields, and what, that labour past,
Age, in its hour of languor, finds at last;
What form the real Picture of the Poor,
Demand a song–the Muse can give no more.
Wonderful too that our present Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right Honourable George Osborne MP, wants to give us our first Garden City for a hundred years at Ebbsfleet in Kent – so long famed as The Garden of England. I expect it will be just as wonderful as the Olympic Village – and maybe even as wonderful as the Ajman Garden City itself.
The British government loves villages so much that it wants to expand them all into towns and then into cities. The reason for this is that ‘expanding existing settlements’ is seen as better than ‘building new towns’.
‘Fresh calm lush green designer landscapes beckon you to lead a harmonious lifestyle at the garden city. The Garden City is a beautiful development, a delightful combination of three buildings, Almond, Jasmin and Mandarin. Nestled in a picturesque surrounding comprised of tree-, fruits- and flower-lined avenues The beauty and the grace of each flower type exude great confidence and reflect the true essence and exquisite quality of the tree, fruit and flower types after which they are named.’
I’ve solved the problem of why George Osborne envisages Ebbsfleet as a Garden City: he’s been to Dubai and seen the Ajman Garden City. He loved it with the adoration of a puppy. He wants Sunny Ebbsfeet to rival Dubai with its wonderful expanses of lawns embellished with wonderful expanses of charming roads and concrete slabs. The only features Ebbsfeet cannot rival are the intense heat, dust, glare and humidity. Never mind, the Chancellor can tell our state-owned banks to give starter loans for tanning parlours and tatoo artists. The UK economy will then boom with a slew of professional opportunities in skin cancer.
Please tell me it’s a spoof. The world cannot have clients fool-enough to build such a “”"”Garden City”"”". It cannot have designers bad-enough to produce the drawings. It cannot have buyers rich-enough to buy the property. But listen carefully: the voiceover is spoken in a near-human English marketing argot – but for the robot saying al-mond, insetad of aa-mond. So the Dubai video IS a prank by Gravesend kids doing robotics as a sixth form project. Ebbsfleet Garden City will, after all, be a place of semi-detached rose arbours where we can all enjoy harmonious lush green lifestyles.
Phew. What a relief.
See also Will Ebbsfleet be a Garden City a New Town or an overblown Housing Estate?