A fragmented ‘urban assault course’ turns a sad central London square into a space for everyone to enjoy during our Public Space Design Day, organised with Marshalls Bricks & Masonry
Emma Lynn (founding director)
Petr Kalab (senior architect)
Wei Lim (architectural assistant)
Studio Multi, whose offices are split between London and Amsterdam, focused its intervention on Waterhouse Square, an under-performing and underused public space outside its Hatton Garden studio. The practice proposed a reconfiguration of the space which reuses materials already on the site, bolstered by the introduction of Marshalls’ concrete bricks.
The square is bounded by roads, behind which buildings with minimal links to the street appear to turn their backs on a space which could connect them.
Dotted with an excess of bins but no seating, amid a smattering of trees, this should be a place which offers back to the public realm; instead it is where ‘people eat their lunch standing up’, noted Petr Kalab.
Aldo van Eyck’s public playgrounds characterise Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods, explained Emma Lynn, and although many have been adapted after years of use they have led to a better understanding of how children play.
Also drawing on Copenhagen’s Climate-Resilient Neighbourhood strategy – which allows citizens to make changes at ground level to relieve the effects of heavy rain – Studio Multi’s intervention proposes lowering the ground in places and building it up in others. The portions are modular and geometric – a little like the Giant’s Causeway; the proposal is intended to be ‘economical in means’ says Lynn.
This sustainable drainage system would benefit the beleaguered trees and would be added to with a multiplicity of bricks, in manner redolent of Alvar Aalto’s experimental Muuratsalo summer house, which joyfully explored brick’s aesthetics and weathering properties.
It shuns a top-down approach and allows for a multiplicity of affordances
The low-lying, fragmented structure – which takes cues from the nearby Grays’ Inn walled garden and the urban grid of the quarter – snakes through the square. Components include a gateway swing, a mega-bench, a water bowl and planter, and a climbing structure. Importantly, with its irregularity and variety of textures, the intervention shuns a top-down approach and allows for a multiplicity of affordances. As Connor McDonagh commented: ‘I can see this being a kind of assault course, a space for kids, a space for teenagers – a living playground’.