A design charrette, organised by the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) and The Royal Docks Team (RDT) in partnership with Newham Regeneration, has produced a series of proposals to inform the development of new connections in the Royal Docks, as the area’s transformation into a world-class commercial and cultural destination continues through a £314 million regeneration programme over the next five years led by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz.
The design charrette – launched via an open call in September 2018 that attracted 31 expressions of interest – aimed to examine how the arrival of the Elizabeth Line at Customs House can drive regeneration and improve connections across the Royal Docks – London’s only Enterprise Zone – while integrating existing communities and reflecting the area’s rich social and cultural heritage. As the London Festival of Architecture explores the theme of ‘boundaries’ in 2019, the charrette sought to engage local communities, whose neighbourhoods currently feel divided by a busy east-west road and rail corridor.
Five shortlisted teams – Ash Sakula, Farrells, The Klassnik Corporation and London School of Architecture (LSA), LYN Atelier and Urban Narrative, and Sarah Wigglesworth Architects with Fluid andKinnear Landscape Architects – took part in an initial workshop in November 2018 facilitated by Daisy Froud, and attended by key community and other stakeholders including PEACH (The People’s Empowerment Alliance for Customs House), Transport for London, the Royal Docks Team, Newham Council and ExCeL London. Following a site tour and presentations from stakeholders, the teams worked to identify priority issues before beginning to develop proposals, with all participants pooling experience, knowledge and ideas. This was followed by a design review session, with community and stakeholder participants providing feedback, before the design teams were charged with developing resolved proposals for the next stage.
The second public stage – held at ExCeL London on 15 January – saw design teams present worked-up proposals in response to the brief and issues raised at the preceding stage. While the official ‘jury’ retired to consider each scheme, the audience of wider community and local stakeholders were invited to discuss and review the schemes themselves.
Three commendations were awarded by the jury:
1. Strategic/direct support – won by LYN Atelier and Urban Narrative
This proposal identified the real potential of ExCeL as an untapped public resource whose existing infrastructure and resources can be harnessed to support new relationships and activities. By enhancing the range of activities within ExCeL, using its central atrium as a social and meeting space, and opening up its waterfront as a space for new community and workspaces, the proposal offers real reasons for people to come over from Custom House. The jury felt LYN Atelier and Urban Narrative’s proposal could best help meet the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Agenda, and described the use of ‘normal, everyday stuff’ as a ‘stroke of genius’ that could also break down barriers and increase the range of uses across the Royal Docks, allowing the neighbourhood to function better at local and international levels.
2. Game changer – won by Klassnik Corporation and LSA
Klassnik Corporation and LSA proposed a new walkway structure – sculpting the roof of an existing shopping parade to create a new level that can link ExCeL, Custom House station and a new public square. The jury awarded their commendation for the proposal they felt could best curate and enhance the experience of arrival, and to ensure transport infrastructure does not further separate communities from access to the docks, businesses and amenities. They recognised the potential of this proposal to break down the barrier between Custom House station and local facilities, thereby opening up useful public space, providing space for new activities and supporting sustainable energy and transport.
3. Meaningful engagement with local communities, context and identity – won by Ash Sakula
Ash Sakula addressed the physical boundary presented by the railway by extending the Custom House station walkway into Custom House itself, lining it with restaurants, cafes and bars, and opening out into a square that then flows into a sequence of new squares and spaces accommodating a variety of recreational, retail and community uses. This was described by the jury as a ‘delightful’ scheme that connected the two sides of the neighbourhood, in a way that addresses the Mayor of Newham’s agenda of putting the residents at the heart of everything. The jury admired the way Ash Sakula put equal effort and care into both sides of the railway, the use of ExCeL as a meaningful resources, and the use of materials to convey a sense of everyday life.
In addition to a commendation for meaningful engagement, Ash Sakula were the overwhelming winner of the ‘people’s choice’ award based on an audience vote.
This design charrette has provided a meaningful and valuable part of the initial local engagement as the Royal Docks Team prepare to deliver significant investment in the Royal Docks. Through employing a skilled and experienced facilitator, such as Daisy Froud, it has been possible to achieve a close collaboration between London’s design talent and practices, landowners, established businesses, such as ExCeL, and our delivery partners. Crucially, it has brokered a vitally informative dialogue with community representatives of the London Borough of Newham and Newham elected members to direct the future investment in the area.
Throughout 2019, the Royal Docks Team plan to invite contributions and feedback from key stakeholders and the local community, with opportunities to actively participate alongside our joint delivery partners. This will include more events and engagement like the London Festival of Architecture, part of a wider conversation, discussion and participation in the area to ensure that investment secures direct benefit to local people, can demonstrate tangible input on the proposals, and the support of local communities.
The Royal Docks Team have prepared to launch a Royal Docks website to showcase the current regeneration story and ensure local stakeholders are able to keep up to date on the progress with projects, events and news regarding the area.
See the winning entries here: www.royaldocks.london/articles/video-imagining-the-future-of-custom-house and more details on the process and outcomes here: www.royaldocks.london/articles/local-groups-come-together-for-custom-house-design-challenge
Tamsie Thomson, director of the London Festival of Architecture, said:
“The Royal Docks Charrette has offered a fascinating series of ideas and proposals that can benefit residents and businesses in the Royal Docks, by breaking down some of the real and perceived barriers that have hampered development and regeneration in the past. At the London Festival of Architecture we are proud that our work has shown ways in which communities can play an active part in regeneration in this exciting and important part of London.”
Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, Jules Pipe, said:
“The Royal Docks is set to become a vibrant new district of London, with the potential to deliver 35,000 jobs, 4,000 new homes and attract more than £5 billion investment over the next 20 years. Our partnership with the Mayor of Newham and the LFA means we can put Sadiq’s Good Growth agenda at the heart of the area’s regeneration. The design charrette has demonstrated that, by working closely with Newham Council and stakeholders, we can engage the local community and showcase London’s world-leading architects and designers.”
Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz said:
“The design charrette has started the important conversations with residents and puts them at the heart of the planning around the Royal Docks. We will continue to have discussions with Newham residents to make sure they are part of the design process. The ideas from the charrette, along with those that come out of future discussions, will colour future designs for the area, ensuring it is a place our residents can enjoy.”