Wednesday, 17 March 2010

"Cluster On Me" An Alternative development above Tottenham Court Road Crossrail Station

This was a project done over at Madam Studio, with Rebecca Harral and Marco Ginex.
We are situated in Soho, and are quite horrified at the lack of Programmatic and architectural ingenuity being shown by the proposals for what will replace the two chunks of Soho that are being/have been demolished to make way for the TotCrtRd Crossrail interchange. A rich mix of music venues, night-clubs, offices, restaurants, accomodation, schools, and buildings ranging from the eighteenth century to the 70s (hilariously the whole development is in a conservation zone) are being lost, from the area around The End and Denmark Street, to the block that housed the Ghetto, The Astoria, Dionysus and Metro, to a whole slice of Dean Street, where the old Black Gardenia, with its wooden stools and oddly dressed attendants (always made me think of Johnny Depp), and Spaccanapoli (pizzas by the metre) are all gone, only to be replaced by office blocks with token subsidised space for "culture".

We wanted to incorporate the capital benefits of both monolithic skyscraper projects, like one Canada Square, as well as the kind of groundscraper they are planning to build on the site, with the qualities of architectural and programmatic diversity that we like so much in Soho. To do this we felt that spaces needed to be found in which there was freedom for a variety of architectures, and programmes, as well as ownerships to evolve on their own course, with these "voids", or lacunae-of-design being anchored by a certain quantity of large, defined elements that would insure an economy of scale sufficient to initiate the development.

^View of Tower at Final Stage From The Corner Of Oxford Street and Hanway Place

^Context and Contradiction
We proposed a vertical infrastructure above the station which would be part financed by the construction of the three large Anchor Tenants. The infrastructure would service the key tenants, but would also create a framework, both structural and in terms of routes and connections, for the volumetric space between the key occupiers.

^Diagram of Stages of Growth in Relation To Infrastructure
Traffic is drawn up into the space above the station in three velocities (by the elevators, of which there are only two, by the escalators which connect between the elevators, and by the stairs, which access all spaces between the escalators), and at points along those lines of acces (which are themselves lengthened, although not inconveniently so), ruptures are introduced that lead out onto empty "lots".

^catalogue of volumes and prgrammes contained in the voids of the plot
These "lots" are defined Volumetricaly, with only their points of access, the entry and exit of services, and their basic form being prescribed. Their form is managed to insure light and air reaches every lot in the space of the site, but what is designed within, or on that envelope, is up to the owner and architect of the plot.

^Perspectival Section. Conjecture of how the areas would be filled.
As well as a rich Architectural mix, which is something we are very interested in -namely the point at which an urban/architectural framework becomes a mechanism that both fosters stylistic plurality while also giving it form and coherence- we also wanted to propose a level of inherent economic and spatial redundancy. As Jane Jacobs kept pointing out in the Death and Life of Great American Cities, it is vital that an area have a building stock that is composed of buildings of varying ages and states of repair. It is through that range of building-states that a variety of enterprises can pool together (small start-ups have a chance of finding cut-throat cheap digs, small music venues take up dank basements, and are happily frequented by business people working down the road in Class A office blocks), sharing common facilities and generating a vibrant, balanced and flexible local economy, culture, and consequently: Architecture.
^Breakdown of one volumetric "lot" that has been divided and sold to different owner occupiers, and modified by various designers/architects
This situation exists in Soho,because unlike most of the rest of Central London, which is owned as large assets by families like the Bedfords, Grosvenors and the Howard De Walden Estate, Soho is owned by multiple landlords, building by building, street by street. Often the buildings in the main London Estates are leased out on long leaseholds (25, 50, or 99 years), with large rounds of investment occuring when the leases come up for renewal, meaning that the stock is maintained uniformly, with the kinds of tenants being just as unrelentingly homogenous (as a palliative the Howard De Walden Estate creates a fictive image of diversity by allowing certain "atmospheric" shops to have artificially lower rents. They call this "nurturing"). The leases on Soho's building are constantly coming up for renewal, plots are always being bought, sold, redeveloped, or left to decay, and correspodingly the life and architecture of the place is sparkling.

We tried to develop a similar scenario to the one found in Soho, but 3dimensionaly disposed, not stacked but more like a fractured honeycomb, into whose voids gets squeezed a range of privately owned properties, supported and connected by a communaly managed framework. The current Derwent Londoproposals for the site create a Howard De Walden type scenario, with a large single ownership area of building, punctuated only by the image of diversity (a small space is being kept in the new office complex for an etiolated "cultural" space that is supposed to make up for everything that was wiped away), effectively giving bones to the threat of "cleaning up" that have been leveled at the apparently scruffy and "tacky" area for some years now (if the GLA and politicians consider this part of London scruffy, god help us).
We dreamed a little of large sums of money being spent on building prominent spaces where things could get as "tacky" as need and wants be, and where possibly, maybe even, Madam Studio, and some of our mates, could find an affordable (but not subsidised!) Central London studio, in which we could hole ourselves up (and build something that can be seen not only from the street, shock-horror, but from all over town), and have some fun in. Off to Berlin?

All images © Madam Studio Ltd 2010

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