London, United Kingdom | 2012
Envisaged as part of the wider Woolwich masterplan, the Royal Borough of Greenwich set out key objectives to create a fully accessible public space for all, with feature lighting, soft landscaping and a water feature that could drain to accommodate events. The practice saw off almost 40 rivals from across the world to win the contract, with the work completing in 2011.
Gustafson Porter + Bowman’s design is based on the concept that each square embodies an essential quality of Woolwich, whether historic or natural, and seeks to create spaces that are particular to Woolwich. The design used pedestrian movement studies to identify key routes through the town centre, and developed these to create distinctive quality public spaces that both enhance the experience of the pedestrian and respond to their needs.
Terracing is utilised to improve the usability of the steeply sloping squares, with level routes provided throughout to ensure accessibility for all users. A language of materials and details was developed that incorporated the best practice for seating, ramps, lighting and planting. Natural stone was chosen for its robustness and appearance, and its colours tied into the palette of the wider town centre. The robust detailing of the design has allowed the spaces to be well maintained by the council.
While the language of the project is modern, the design is sensitive to the historic fabric of Woolwich, especially its Grade II listed buildings which overlook each square which are re-established as key architectural features in the public realm. The soft landscaping addresses the shortage of green space by creating a ‘Garden’ that generates a sense of calm and relaxation while providing a functional space that can be transformed for other uses.
A film by Esther Johnson · 2015 'Alone Together, the Social Life of Benches' illuminates the thoughts and memories of frequent users of two public spaces in London: General Gordon Square, Woolwich and St Helier Open Space, Sutton.
Revolving around the micro-space of the humble bench, the emotional and experiential capacity of film is used to highlight themes such as the feeling of being in a space, the rhythm and flow of visitors to a place, and the importance of design for everyday street furniture. The film acts like a stranger who joins you on a bench to ‘watch the world go by’, and break the ice by starting a conversation with their fellow bench user. Alone Together was made as part of collaborative research 'The Bench Project', which explores how individuals and groups use public space. blanchepictures.com/alone-together/
2015 Shortlist, Plan Awards, Category: Landscape
2014 Shortlist, New London Awards, Category: Public Spaces
2013 Winner, London Planning Awards, Category: Best Town Centre Project
2013 Shortlist, London Planning Awards, Category: Best New Public Space
2011 Finalist, New London Awards, Category: Future Projects / Placemaking
'Woolwich Squares', Landezine (2014)
Woolwich Squares, Urban Landscape (2014)
Woolwich Squares, Landscape Record (2015)
'Woolwich Squares', The Plan (2015)
'Negotiating place: The challenge of inclusive design', Discover Society (2015)
'Go-ahead for £6.6m revamp of Woolwich Squares', Builder and Engineer (2009)