There's still time for a Gherkin

This article about the Lewisham Gateway scheme generated quite a lot of reaction, most of it cautiously welcoming of the masterplan that's being developed.

One of the main reservations expressed, however, was that the architecture was bland and uninspiring and that this represented a missed opportunity to create something genuinely distinctive, such as Future Systems' Selfridges store, which has been so successful in the redevelopment of Birmingham's city centre.

Arguably, Lewisham lacks a distinctive public face - it boasts few icons or landmarks, particularly in comparison to neighbouring Greenwich and Southwark. The existing masterplan looked as though it would do little to change this.

However, following the article's publication, Brockley Central was contacted by the developers of the scheme to point out that:

"Our current application is in 'outline' and none of the buildings has been designed yet. All the images that we show are indicative and are just intended to give an impression. We will be commissioning a range of architects to design the individual buildings and, through their skills, our objective is for Lewisham Gateway to be architecturally fantastic!"

So there is still time for a design of genuine quality, that reflects the character of the local area and delivers the iconic status that many local people seem to want.

Buildings designed with the sole purpose of being icons usually fail, but the best designs, such as Foster's Gherkin or Future Systems' Selfridges, combine form and function to create something that enhances the urban landscape. Hopefully, the developers and the Council will remain true to this ambition and follow the precedent set in Lewisham by the Laban Centre. If we get another Lewisham Police Station, it will be a disaster.

It's also worth bearing in mind that the website for campaign against the scheme relies heavily on the existing images of the scheme, presumably in the belief that the images will shock some residents. Since these images are unrepresentative of the final scheme, we hope that the campaign will acknowledge that properly.


john said...

Great idea. I'll come along. Have been living in the conservation area for more than two years now and would be interested to meet other locals to see who really lives round here.

max said...

I haven't commented on the Gateway yet because I really didn't find the time to digest all of the 45 pages of the objection. I read it through once and there are concerns that I share.

I have been to quite a few meetings where the developers explained their plans and I have been asking about it and I have never been convinced by the explanations really.
My concern has got nothing to do with modern architecture that is a thing that I'm fine with, it's about the traffic.
As the rest of the world I'm not a great admirer of roundabouts but they do serve a purpose as they process a lot of cars.
As that junction is congested and often stuck with awfully long queues going down Loampit Vale into Lewisham Way sometimes down all the way to New Cross I think that fiddling with that traffic hotspot is a thing to be done with care.
I think that there is a serious risk of making that gridlock a steady feature and I dont think that this is in anybody's interest.

Lewisham Council owns a lot of land involved in the development and the success of the scheme is in their financial interest and I think that it would be much better if Lewisham Council would not have power over the planning consent of this scheme, the potential bias is really big and as I know for a fact that they distort facts and figures when it suits them I think that it would be naive to take their reassurances at face value.

The objection does examine the traffic implications and makes a serious and well researched case for re-examination of the scheme.

I think that a serious answer to those concerns should be articulated by the proponents of the scheme even if that involved going back to the drawing board to propose something different.

As you say the buildings have not been designed yet so if that has to happen, the earlier the better.

max said...

Just a thought on iconic buildings and expensive architecture.
That's beautiful but there are solutions that can only be afforded by banks (Gherkin), large chains of stores and a handful of public commissions.

The Gateway and surrounding developments are largely residential. It's not any secret that it's for the buy to let market aiming at people starting to work at Canary Wharf because of the DLR.

I don't see any reason to believe that economicity in building won't be the main guiding principle during the designing of this development.
This doesn't mean that they have to look ugly but I woudn't expect anything exciting really.

Nick said...

Hi Max

Thanks for your posts. I don't really expect them to come up with the Gherkin, that was a joke, but equally, good quality or iconic design doesn't have to be expensive, necessarily. The BedZed scheme is probably a more realistic comparison.

As for the point about traffic - yes, I totally agree they should do their best to address these concerns, although there's no evidence that traffic will get worse, only a lack of evidence that it won't - which isn't the same thing. I know a certain amount about planning enquiries and they're always full of these kinds of uncertainties - sometimes, you just have to take the plunge.

But even if the traffic were to get slightly worse, as someone who has to drive through the area fairly frequently, I would still say it was worth it, if the quality of the scheme was good. In previous decades, many British cities (eg: Birmingham) were built with the needs of the car first and it blighted them as places to live and visit. The same has happened to Lewisham, on a smaller scale.

Nick said...

Hi John, if you're referring to the get-together, then please can you email me your contact details.


max said...

Well, let me quote from the objection, page 5:
"A20 Loampit Vale TfL Red Route PM Peaks
- Increase from 39 buses per hour to 126 buses per hour.
- Current traffic modelling predicts that Loampit Vale west bound will be 89% saturation. However this model does not include the above increase in bus traffic.

406 residential units plus retail.
Not included in the traffic model for Lewisahm Gateway.

700 residential units plus leisure centre plus retail.
Not included in the traffic model for Lewisham Gateway."

I think that these are real concerns and they should be looked at appropriately.

The first point, the raise from 39 to 126 buses per hour, I would consider this as evidence that the traffic will get worse, not as lack of evidence that it won't.
The scheme won't be good if it doesn't plan for these changes.

Brockley Nick said...

Hi Max

Yes, they are valid concerns, if correct - never denied that this kind of issue needs to be discussed. But, for example, an increase in bus traffic doesn't automatically translate to an increase in road traffic - they also take cars off the roads.

TfL themselves have not said that the scheme will create more traffic, they have said that they are not yet convinced that it won't. That kind of caveat is common in planning processes, that's all I'm saying.

It is right to raise this as an issue but the objectors want to use it as an excuse to cancel the scheme altogether. That's ridiculous and smacks of NIMBYism.

Also, given that the objectors failed to mention a major capacity increase on the DLR and present the visualisations as if they were the finished designs, I would also not assume that their case represent the whole and only truth...

max said...

I'm not sure that these are additional buses, I think that many of them are only rerouted buses because of the change of road layout. Most of them probably need to reach the bus station that moves from the roundabout to the back of Loampit Vale forcing the buses to go through the traffic system instead of finishing their journey at the bus depot on the roundabout as they do now.

leenewham said...

Totally agree. The lewisham police station is a disaster (what WERE they thinking????) Good design can totally transform public cpaces. Birminghams Bullring is an excellent case and the Selfridges buildings is breathtaking.

Another excellent blogon Brockley. I hope the developers are brave in their approach to the architecture and bring us inspirational eco grand designs to Lewisham.

Anonymous said...

If they manage to do something as imaginative as the new Cornmill gardens development, where the Ravensbourne river comes to life, then I would be impressed. A lot of people seem to be suddenly recognising that special thing that Lewisham has - those two rivers that can be brought to life. We are seeing this in one or two spots along the Ravensbourne, and in many places along the Quaggy (though not so much in Lewisham itself, with regard to the latter) . It seems like an idea whose time has come, and this is a natural resource Lewisham could make more of


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