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Competition: Wilcox Road, London – Architectural Review

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The London Festival of Architecture (LFA) has announced a competition for a £65,000 public realm intervention on Wilcox Road close to south London’s new Nine Elms underground station (Deadline: 17 February)

Open to architects, landscape architects, designers, artists, and creatives – the contest seeks visions to transform the retail side street, famous as the location of Powders Launderette in Hanif Kureishi’s 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette, into a ‘welcoming gateway’ to the nearby Northern Line station.

The project is backed by local authority Lambeth Council and is part of wider efforts to establish an ‘inclusive and resilient’ economy across the borough. The overall winner will receive £65,000 – which includes a £10,000 fee – to design, fabricate and install their winning public realm concept which will remain in place for at least 10 years.

Wilcox Road, South Lambeth

Wilcox Road, South Lambeth

Sonia Winifred, councillor and cabinet member for equalities and culture, said: ‘This is a unique opportunity for a new or emerging artist to leave their mark on one of our most exciting neighbourhoods and be enjoyed for years to come. It could become one of the first sights visitors see when they leave Nine Elms station to explore Nine Elms.

‘I would encourage all artists, designers, or creative minds to consider how they can help enhance this new local centre. Wilcox Road brings together so many people from different backgrounds, I hope the winning artwork will reflect the diversity of the area now and in the future.’

LFA director Rosa Rogina said: ‘Harnessing creativity and design talent to achieve positive change for Lambeth is fundamental to our mission. This competition is a great opportunity for creatives to showcase their talent and demonstrate how design can bring together local communities and transform a public road into a bold local landmark for the benefits of residents and visitors alike.’

Wilcox Road is a short retail thoroughfare sandwiched between the 1950s Wyvil Estate and 1930s Vauxhall Estate. The road provides an important pedestrian link between Nine Elms station on Wandsworth Road and nearby South Lambeth Road.

Two years ago, Lambeth Council approved plans for the partial redevelopment of Wilcox Road for a new mixed-use scheme. The latest project aims to deliver a ‘transformational and innovative’ intervention on the street so it can serve as an easily recognisable town centre gateway.

The new Nine Elms underground station is opposite Wilcox Road

The new Nine Elms underground station is opposite Wilcox Road

Participants are invited to draw up ‘unique’ and ‘imaginative’ concepts for a public realm intervention which could strengthen links, connectivity and wayfinding throughout the area and reinforce East-West links into Nine Elms and through to South Lambeth Road.

The competition comes less than a year after emerging practice Projects Office won an earlier LFA competition to revamp a disused railway arch behind Nine Elms station nearby. Five shortlisted teams will each receive £1,000 to draw up concepts following an initial open expressions of interest round.

Q&A with Matthew Bennett (MB) and Ellie Pile (EP)

The Lambeth Council deputy leader for planning investment and new homes, and LFA programme manager discuss their ambitions for the competition

Why are you holding an open call for a £65k public realm intervention in Wilcox Street?

MB: Communities in this part of the borough have had to deal with a lot of change in recent years. It’s important to the Council to consider how this change can be harnessed for the benefit of our local communities and businesses, and how growth in the area can be inclusive and benefit all. The new Nine Elms tube station and consented over-station development will bring more people within sight of the shops, cafes, and other amenities on Wilcox Road, and we want this intervention to amplify its presence, capturing people’s interest and encouraging them to cross Wandsworth Road and see what the local centre has to offer, further supporting businesses.

The connection from the tube station, through Arch 42 to Nine Elms and the river, is an important one for Lambeth residents; therefore, we are committed to provide better connectivity and movement through the railway viaduct and adjacent neighbourhoods. The Wilcox Road intervention will act as a key wayfinding marker, signifying this important connection.

Projects Office won an LFA competition last year to revamp a disused railway arch behind Nine Elms station

Projects Office won an LFA competition last year to revamp a disused railway arch behind Nine Elms station

We decided to partner with the LFA and run an open competition after seeing the successful competitions our neighbours and colleagues in the London Borough of Wandsworth had run for Happy Streets Thessaly Road and Arch 42. The Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea (VNEB) Opportunity Area runs across Wandsworth and Lambeth and the two boroughs collaborate and complement where possible to add value across the wider area.

The creation of high-quality public realm across the Opportunity Area and its environs is an aspiration shared by both boroughs and the installation at Wilcox Road will play a part in this. The project is part of Lambeth’s emerging placemaking programme, which also includes the extension of the Low Line to VNEB (currently a live open tender) and Goding Street improvements; aiming to activate and improve spaces as change and development unfolds.

What is your vision for the future Wilcox Road, and what would you like to see in submissions to the competition?

MB: We are very open in our expectations for the competition – it can be one key intervention or multiple interventions; we hope to see proposals that we could not have conceived ourselves; that is the purpose of partnering with the LFA and opening the opportunity up to a wide range of interpretations.

What is most important is that submissions think about the locality – the people, place and the history and that submissions draw out and celebrate the character, culture and history of the neighbourhood and its community in a creative way.

Wilcox Road is already a vibrant and important centre in this part of Lambeth; our vision is to encourage more people to discover it and make use of the local businesses there. As a council we have worked closely with our business community throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and supported over 4,000 businesses with grant funding. Now we are emerging from the pandemic it is important that we work in partnership with our communities to make them attractive destinations for both residents and visitors.

What role do you see this competition playing in the development of new local, international and underrepresented architectural and design talents, and helping to address the underrepresentation and engagement of many communities in our interpretation of the built environment?

EP: The Wilcox Road Gateway competition is open to architects, designers, and artists. We particularly encourage submissions from emerging practices as well as teams, which include individuals from underrepresented backgrounds within the architectural and design industry. One key aim of LFA in general is to open routes for young and emerging designers into the industry and create opportunities that challenge traditionally perception of the make-up of the built environment sector. We think that this competition is a great opportunity for a wide range of teams, either locally or further afield to showcase their ideas for celebrating this unique part of London.

Through our competitions we always encourage collaborations and it’s great to see this reflected in the teams that submit. We love to see teams bringing together their unique expertise and learning from each other’s perspectives – often these partnerships result in the most imaginative and contextually responsive proposals. We’d welcome international teams to enter the Wilcox Road Gateway competition but would encourage them to partner up with the local teams to benefit from the understanding of the area and its community.

Are there any recent similar competitions or projects, either locally or internationally, which have delivered impressive results?

EP: We’re particularly proud of our continued work along Exhibition Road in South Kensington. We originally worked in the area back in 2008 in partnership with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, testing the possibility for pedestrianisation of the space during LFA. The entire road was temporarily closed to traffic for the very first time to host a series of public events (including pop-up installations, performances, and food stalls) as part of LFA. It was a hugely successful project which highlighted the opportunities and changes pedestrianisation could bring. The event led to the introduction of a permanent scheme by Dixon Jones, which has been in place since 2010.

South Kensington's Exhibition Road was pedestrianised as part of a Dixon Jones-designed overhaul in 2011

South Kensington’s Exhibition Road was pedestrianised as part of a Dixon Jones-designed overhaul in 2011

Last year, we were then back on the same street testing a new set of ideas, this time around urban greening. Our long-term involvement in the area has demonstrated the importance of continually reinventing, reinvigorating, and adapting space to changing needs. The project in Lambeth is looking at the same ideas but in a slightly different way. We are excited that the project can be the start of new layers of public realm improvements, which are relevant and responsive to their immediate surroundings and communities, adding to rich history of the area as it evolves.

How do you see LFA projects in Nine Elms evolving in the future and what competitions will you hold next?

EP: LFA has now delivered several projects within the local area of Nine Elms, including Happy Street by artist Yinka Ilori, which was unveiled in July 2019 and the Arch 42 competition, won by Projects Office at the beginning of 2021. The Wilcox Road Gateway competition will build on this legacy in the area and will continue to act as a tool for engaging local communities with the development of public spaces and infrastructure.

Alongside this competition, LFA will be shortly launching several competitions that will be celebrated and exhibited throughout the festival in June. Our competitions and their subsequent public realm installations, act as a tool to bring people together to discuss architecture, for testing innovative ideas with the public realm and to celebrate the joys of design. We’re excited to share with you the new and exciting projects for this year soon, keep up to date with the latest competition news here.

Artist and designer Yinka Ilori completed the contest-winning Happy Street installation in Nine Elms in 2019

Artist and designer Yinka Ilori completed the contest-winning Happy Street installation in Nine Elms in 2019

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