Europan 6, 2001
When we first visited London-Peckham we immediately started to think about a strong urban structure that would fill the entire space pointed out on the map. One whole building that would dominate the Peckham centre and thereby give new life – dynamic and urban – to the town, in combination with the newly established Library and Pulse centre. What also occured to us when visiting the site was the rather random layout of the central streetpattern, compared to the areas just north and east of it. There we noticed long rows of houses rigidly composed along narrow streets, even when highrise buildings are situated in the neighbourhood. We decided to transform the location into such a structural pattern as well and still try to imagine a solid building next to the other two solids, set behind High Street, the library and leisure centre. A soft solid form was created (in contrast with the existing sharp ones) in accordance with the mapped surroundings: deciding upon the height of the form, the places to enter it and taking care of the proximite existing buildings. In doing so we decided to take away all the existing blocks along the High Street, so that the new solid would be visible from there. Entrance should be allowed from Melon Road (obligatory for cars), where a close relation with the leisure centre could be established and from Sumner Avenue, where there is a chance to let the green area surrounding the St James school intervene into our solid. Inside the solid two large voids were created combined with both entrances: one for public entertainment, called square, connected to Melon Road and one called garden, where the green from Sumner Avenue enters, as the intestines of the body; the heart (square) and the lungs (park) of it. Underneath this solid form a parking would be provided ( approximately 100 cars can park here: so it fits the demands of occupants and visitors) and a tube station, with connections to the High Street and our solid at several spots. The tram system (or subway) is placed underground for otherwise it would block the access from High Street to our site entirely, while the whole idea is to make a connection.
Then we brought in a strong structural element by slicing our soft solid form, like a piece of cake or liquorice sweets into streets and buildings. Each slice now became a built part of the building, filled up with different parts of our programme and different doorways for the opening up of the structure, while on the other hand the remaining voids (streets) also would stay as an inseperable part of the whole building, giving entrance to the buildingsslices and allow light to enter the structure, to be its traffic system and communal space. They are filled with footpaths, bicycle roads, trees, trash cans, benches etc. Light transforms the space, creates habitable rooms: we experimented with the light and found the right sizes (6m for a filled slice and 12 m for an empty slice) for our slices in a small model. The space in between the blocks is as important as the blocks themselves, but negative, inversed. If one consideres the soft solid form as one space, it’s hard to make a difference between built space and empty space. There’s hardly any difference in taking one or the other as a starting point of the design; which one comes first, the streets (voids) or the built sections? This slicing of the soft solid allows us to create a density that is a bit higher than usual in Peckham: instead of 80 dwellings per hectare we realise 160 dwellings per hectare, which means 80 dwellings on this particular site, combined with additional office and studio space, retail facilities and a cinema and sport facilities. Restaurants and bars will be situated near the socalled square with cinema and sport.
Its facade is just as well the skin of the blocks (built space) as off the voids (streets, empty space); it’s not clear at all to which one it belongs, it can be read as an autonomous screen between the two. Skin or tissue can be cut just like our solid. Here one finds a close relation with contemporary city life; do the buildings and urban structure create the possibility of life or is it the independant life that sets out rules for the buildings and urban patterns? They can’t be seperated; in between are just screens; sometimes facades of a building. Architects design those screens: maybe it would be wise to neutralise them, so they may be used for projection from inside (houses, offices etc) as well as outside (citylife). Neutral being hardly there, unnoticed, undecorated, inconspicuous. Houses and offices, internal voids and local facilities have become a part of the street, of the public domain. By slicing our urban solid we created sections that can be read out independently. Yet because of the proximity of the others a certain unity or wholeness was obtained. Now and then a corridor connects two or three sections, making it possible to cross the building, visit other people or facilities, without leaving it. But more important was the possibility of planning urban, public space inside a solid form, getting mixed with it. The city is getting more and more public nowadays and there is a growing demand for “public” buildings. Openess and accessibility are keywords in our cities today. The intimacy of the interior is lost: all is public space. Being eye to eye with a unique piece of art, for instance, is being exchanged for a quick and rather unpersonal look of thousand and more people an hour at Tate Modern. The art has been deminished to the wall paper of public space, a kind of global entertainment, present at all time. And this has happend to a lot of similar experiences. Have our buildings, our cities become soap opera’s, that is wall paper?
Our building is an attempt to create an urban, open and public structure, accessible at all time, fit to house all contemporary needs and at the same time creates an intimate and close atmosphere to live in; to feel at home, together with others. A mix in public and private space, such as can be found in small villages or old towncentres. A building or structure that tells a story, that means something; a building that kind of resists the wall paper society. In between here means to be connected to city-life easily any time you want and still providing privacy where and when needed.
It is not being designed to become an meaningless icon, an architects toy, placed at this spot to show how concerned the local authorities are with the neglected society of Peckham, but layed out as a tool for urban and social reform to be used by planners as well as inhabitants to make it there own, recognizable living place.
All slices, except nr 1, have a width of 6 meters, so all spaces inside of them are arranged in the length of the building. Sector number 1 has a width of 12 meters, while inside this slice the theater and cinema halls are located. These halls still are developed in the length of the building while the adjoining houses are now being situated from wall to wall, as usual in existing streets. All other houses develop along the facade and have a lenght up to 22 meters. Most houses measure between 70 en 80 m2 (12 to 13m long), some though are bigger – around 90 m2 (15 m length) and a few end up around 130 m2 (22 m length). The plans of the houses, being so much in contact with the facades (and the voids!), are kept as open as possible; they do not have to much partition, but the interior is filled with furniture-elements as kitchen, bathrooms, toilets and technical- or store rooms, arranged like independant blocks that divide the space into segments that can be used in accordance with the demands and wishes of the owner. Some of the houses spread out on two levels, most of them develop on one floor. Space or voids in between the built slices allow much light to enter the houses, reason why the facade are not completely made out of glass: they have some closed parts too: a random pattern of aluminium panels distinguishes the houses from office space and shops. Because we didn’t want to disturb the facades of the built slices to much, the space each house needs as an outside space was being combined into a kind of greenhouses in between the houses inside each slice. They are called city-windows, because they allow the users to have an outlook on the street and from there into to towncentre and are equipped with big, glass sliding doors to make it possible to open up in spring and summertime. Usually four or five houses use one city-window, so these windows also function as a natural social intermediar, causing contact between inhabitants of the slices. Except from the city-windows some additional voids can be found in each slice or section to provide the inhabitants with fresh air and room for geraniums etc.
Once in a while we found necessary to make a short passage from a doorway to a certain house in order to make it accessible. This causes a cantilevered house on one side of the section, for we didn’t want to narrow these houses even more. By doing so, these houses become a large baywindow (another very English element in traditional architecture) in the street next to these particular sections, combined with the corridors and voids delivering a certain vividness to the sections and streets.
The cover of each slice or section, only visible from High Street or Jocelyn Street/Sumner Road, is completely closed and filled with the traditional English red-brown brickwork, in order to provide the street elevation with enough coherency to not cause any horror amoung the locals or disjunction with the existing buildings. It is of course important to let the interior of the sections (glass facades, steel fencework, aluminum panels and voids) have an entirely different view than the outside elevations of the sections (bricks), for this takes care of a true cutting (cake or sweet)-effect.
LA 202 CROSS-SECTIONS
teamleader: Mark Boschman
team member: Johan de Koning
contributor: Don Monfils