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Words:
Eleanor Young

Water features large in entries for the RIBA’s Forgotten Spaces competition

Pool and spa under a flyover by Heather Lyons, Dara Huang, Soohyun Chang, Ryan Day, Remo de Angelis, Federica Russo and Lisa Hinderdael.
Pool and spa under a flyover by Heather Lyons, Dara Huang, Soohyun Chang, Ryan Day, Remo de Angelis, Federica Russo and Lisa Hinderdael.

Watery spaces read like absence on the map. And of course the space left after industry has deserted dock and canal often does leave derelict sites, forgotten spaces. For each of these there are opportunities and hopes: the grand designs for the canalside Warwick Bar in Digbeth, Birmingham, are now temporary food growing plots at Edible Eastside. A Patel Taylor design for a headland walk to link Cardiff Bay to the town of Penarth never made it, nor did Gensler’s 1km London River Park proposal to inhabit the Thames for 2012. But each leaves a trace, a ripple in the pool of the places memory. Do you remember that image of a baths and gardens designed by Studio Egret West in the Royal Docks in East London? 

This, in a way, is the intention with RIBA London’s annual Forgotten Spaces competition and its sister contests that have been run over the past couple of years in various parts of the country – and this year also in Preston. It draws attention to sites where something exciting could happen and whets the appetite, perhaps of developers or planners or a community group. Just three of the pre-identified London sites were liquid this year. 

But no matter, you don’t even need to see water to start divining it. The first Forgotten Spaces competition, in 2010, memorably saw the mouth of an underground tramway in Kingsway, central London, transformed into a pool by two architects from Scott Brownrigg. 

This year’s winner substitutes historic subterranean river for road to create a more edifying setting for the last resting place of Sir John Soane with more than a twist of Georges Seurat. At the back of King’s Cross Central and just a paddle from St Pancras International the scheme proposes liberating the River Fleet to flow freely alongside St Pancras church. Richard Gooden of 4orm, designer of Fleeting Memory, called it ‘ambitious but achievable’.

Many of the shortlisted proposals were drawn to the area under Silvertown Way fly­over. But here too water appeared – as a swimming pool and spa. Studio Pink’s second place design, Aquadocks, used the columns to dramatically frame the water. It had the sense of bringing water to a space so close to the docks but also cut off from them. 

The buried River Fleet as resurrected by 4orm.
The buried River Fleet as resurrected by 4orm.

There was even a watery installation at London’s Forgotten Spaces exhibition in the (sometimes dripping) vaults of Somerset House. 

In Preston, the Lancaster Canal Basin attracted a number of the shortlisted designers. A lido, community garden, and a suggestion of a café from Vinay Patel all looked at pragmatic solutions to bring the basin edge back to life. Kate Nicholson’s ASCENSION – an exhibition of the weather which you could be part of as you climbed to the top – also turned it into a destination for visitors and locals alike. Perhaps the most engaging watery idea from Preston saw Calderpeel Architects taking on eco system intervention with its reappropriation of a disused cantilever of Avenham Viaduct, to tag and breed native crayfish – while educating the public and feeding them with the invasive signal crayfish. 

And so we take a splash into the watery imagination of London and Preston... 

The Avenham Viaduct cantilevered extension hosts a White Clawed Crayfish ‘Arc’ site which rears the native crayfish in preparation for river restocking. Designed by Calderpeel Architects.
The Avenham Viaduct cantilevered extension hosts a White Clawed Crayfish ‘Arc’ site which rears the native crayfish in preparation for river restocking. Designed by Calderpeel Architects.

Catch London’s Forgotten Spaces exhibition in the vaults of Somerset House, Victoria Embankment, London WC2R 1LA until 10 November 2013.

The winner of Preston’s Forgotten Spaces competition will be announced on 6 November and an exhibition will run in November at 50-52 Lancaster Road, Preston PR1 1DD.

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