“It’s people that make the difference. Once you start to take traffic out of streets, people start to see how all streets could be different. They start to see them as places they could hang out.” That’s how Ben Walker, director at LDA Design and studio lead for London, summed up LDA’s first people approach to making places that are welcoming, sustainable and nature rich. For Ben, that list of places he’s helped shape includes Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Battersea Power Station.
Ben was joined by landscape architect Naomi Rosser, urban designer Sarah Touzeau and director Cannon Ivers for a conversation with Louise Rodgers for the New London Architecture Quarterly magazine, NLQ. It’s makes for a good read. A timeless gem from Cannon for designers and place-makers the world over: “Go back and see how people are responding to a space… If you don’t go back, you don’t learn.”
Cannon and Naomi are fresh from completing the transformation of StrandAldwych with Westminster City Council, which has created the most exciting piece of new public realm in Westminster for generations. It takes out four busy lanes of traffic. It gifts the institutions that line Strand south of Aldwych with a space to share learning and art. It frees up the lovely St Mary le Strand from its role as glorified traffic island (known to cab drivers as St Mary in the Way).
Helping those local cultural and educational institutions to see the potential of the place was a key part of early work on Strand: ‘It was really hard for people to envision how this new space might come about,’ Naomi explains. ‘They couldn’t imagine it without the traffic. We had to take them on a journey and expose them to ideas of what it could be like.” Part of this was a growing recognition of how no one working nearby could benefit from any of that public space while it was given over to traffic.
Design thinking reflects personal experience as well as consultation of course. Taking up cycling during the pandemic has changed the way Sarah approaches masterplanning and how she now views streets both in the day, and the night too.
This kind of details matters when thinking through the experiential quality of a place, but so too does drawing back to see the bigger picture, something that is not lost on anyone at LDA: “Wherever we work, it’s all part of the city’s ecosystem,” explains Cannon. “We are designing individual projects, but we understand the wider networks. And when an individual project gets built, it shifts the needle and becomes part of a bigger network of change.”