The West End Project is a radical overhaul of traffic and public realm in central London. It removes the one-way systems and general traffic on Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street, closes streets to create parks and new squares, widens pavements, enhances connections, better supports pedestrians and cyclists and improves road safety. In doing so, it demonstrates public realm’s potential as an antidote for some of the most pressing problems of today, including air quality, loneliness and climate breakdown.
Working closely with Camden Council, LDA Design has taken historic London streets in some of the busiest, most contested and heavily trafficked parts of the city and reimagined them as relaxing and popular green spaces. It is key to Camden’s work in reducing pollution and improving health and wellbeing. The spaces, as a collective, aim to encourage sociability, promote active travel and physical activity, encourage social interaction and provide close contact with nature in the heart of central London.
The project will transform seven key spaces. At Princes Circus, a section of Shaftesbury Avenue will make way for a lively, welcoming public square. Alfred Place will close a busy trafficked street to become the first new public park inthis area in 100 years, a space for play and relaxation. Whitfield Gardens will be transformed for the local community and four new pocket parks will be created along Tottenham Court Road, allowing opportunities to sit and eat lunch, meet friends or savour a quiet moment.
How does its design contribute to urban life?
The West End Project will make central London a better experience for people: cleaner, greener and safer. In an area of dramatic contrasts, shaped by a rich and varied history, each design speaks of its place. Just off Tottenham Court Road, Whitfield Gardens is a cherished local space, even though it is now dark and overgrown and blighted by anti-social behaviour. Our designs will make this an inviting place for local residents and workers to ‘lunch and linger’. Rainwater gardens will add interest and delight, and a new flexible events space will help to meet community needs.
The Fitzrovia Mural, a well-known and loved piece of local art and 1980s satire will be restored. Princes Circus demonstrates a radical, purposeful direction of travel. This landmark redesign removes substantial sections of Bloomsbury Street and Shaftesbury Avenue to provide generous walkable connections between Covent Garden and the British Museum. A ‘woodland glade’ celebrates the London plane tree and provides an oasis o fcalm. This will become a social place too, with local cafes spilling out; food kiosks will increase revenue opportunities.
A fully-equipped events spaces with pop-up power will add to its usefulness. Alfred Place will become known for its lounging lawns, incidental play and a distinctive meandering sculptural seat, flanked by colourful flowering beds. It will soon be hard to remember it was once a place for cars not people. A further four new pocket parks will provide spaces for quiet respite and exchange. Feature lighting will increase footfall at night.
What was your process in coming up with the design?
LDA Design took DSDHA’s comprehensive Vision and Spatial Strategy for the area and went through a collaborative journey with LB Camden to refine concepts. Pedestrian comfort was a key driver. Footfall across the area is high and we utilised all available data, including TfL’s Pedestrian Comfort Guidance calculations, to ensure sufficient space allowed for ease of movement. We explored biodiversity potential using the Camden BAP. We audited other local public space and completed technical micro-climate studies to inform design.
LDA Design, with LB Camden, consulted extensively with hard-to-reach groups to ensure that the spaces reclaimed for people would reflect the hopes and needs of all those who might use them. A series of heavily-publicised and well-attended pop-up events, in each of the spaces, captured hundreds of conversations; open evening talks and presentations stimulated discussions which have influenced design. Feedback has been encouraging. Long-term governance of the spaces by the local community is actively encouraged.
The ‘Friends of Fitzrovia Parks’ has been engaged throughout; the Saturday morning Gardening Club will continue at Whitfield Gardens. “The design of each space responds to a thorough understanding of its physical and functional context helping to create spaces that are unique but also a cohesive part of a wider transformation strategy. The process has been collaborative, constructive and enjoyable and Camden Council and our community are extremely pleased with the outcome”. Richard Wilson, Strategic Lead Regeneration and Place LB Camden
What do you think makes your design, if realised, a place where people will thrive?
Our aim is to deliver spaces that connect people and place through landscape. It is in these external spaces that people meet, develop a sense of belonging and experience nature. All three activities are essential for health, happiness and wellbeing. Fundamentally, these spaces aim to reclaim London for people.
Wherever possible, these spaces have been designed for flexibility. They will host a myriad of local events and cultural celebrations, supporting community cohesion, and provide attractive backdrops for public arts projects. Whitfield Gardens, which already hosts the annual Lumiere Festival, will have a flush surface to support this, while Alfred Place will support larger partnership events.
Research points to the positive benefits of multi-functional green spaces in cities. This is evidenced not only by reducing the physiological experience of stress and lowering blood pressure. Quality car-free space is where lives can overlap and social interaction can occur, combatting loneliness which is as great a threat to health as obesity.
Nature came up in nearly all conversations with the community when consulting on design. Even brief exposure to nature in the city relieves stress and treats attention disorders in children. As well as retaining the existing mature trees and adding to them, the seasons will be marked with flower-rich perennial borders, shrubs, and species-rich grasses. There is nature-based sustainable drainage, permeable paving and bird and bat boxes. Each of the spaces will provide valuable opportunities for life to play out in indisputably healthier, greener and more sociable settings.