Westminster City Council has unveiled a major new public space, designed by LDA Design, at Strand Aldwych following the transformation of one of the capital’s most congested and polluted streets.
It’s rare to be able to carve out new public realm in historic city centres, but Westminster has invested £22 million into a two-year conversion of busy roads to create welcoming civic space with traffic removed from a stretch of Strand, and Aldwych improved for pedestrians, made slower through new crossings and made two-way.
This significant London project demonstrates a shift in how we view our city streets. For the first time, it links some of the capital’s most important cultural and educational centres by establishing a new social space that neighbouring institutions, including King’s College London, the London School of Economics, Somerset House, and The Courtauld Institute, can share for art, performances, events or even rehearsals, connecting the public and local communities with exciting new experiences and learning – a place for the curious of mind. Bringing the space immediately to life will be the VoiceLine, an installation by Somerset House Studios resident artist Nick Ryan which integrates sound clips from the BBC archives and marks the broadcaster’s 100th anniversary.
LDA Design’s project lead, Cannon Ivers, described the project as a rescue mission which has saved Grade 1* St Mary Le Strand Church from its role as a glorified traffic island, making Aldwych safer and more pleasant. He said, “Strand has long been a place to hurry through rather than linger with pedestrians pinned to narrow pavements. Also, the volume of traffic and parked buses made cycling extremely challenging too. Now, with a significant stretch of Strand pedestrianised, visitors will be able to get a far stronger sense of the leading cultural, religious, and educational institutions based here.”
Other highlights include:
- Pedestrian and cycle zone with increased cycle parking and improved cycle and pedestrian safety at junctions. Adjacent roads have widened footways with reduced street clutter and crossings on desire lines.
- Seating and resting areas with trees for shade, making this busy throughfare linking the City with Westminster a place to relax for the first time
- Improvement to wayfinding, encouraging visitors to walk and explore the wider area
- 1,370m2 of biodiverse planting with year-round colour, including 41 trees with spring flowers and autumn interest including: Alamanchier, Ulums New Horizon and Betula Edinburgh
- Environmental benefits, including supporting pollinators, cooling the urban heat in summer, better air quality due to the reduced vehicular congestion in the area
- It will act as a platform for a revolving round of new and exciting artist commissions to be changed throughout the year
Cllr Geoff Barraclough, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for Place Shaping, and the Economy, said: “Anyone familiar with that part of Westminster will know just how awful it was for pedestrians, who would take their life in their hands every time they tried to get from one side of Aldwych, across to Strand. And instead of being a bright and welcoming entrance into Covent Garden and the West End, Bush House was marooned on a grey traffic island amid a sea of vehicle fumes.
“Schemes like this one demonstrate the inherent value of high-quality public space, and how they can benefit residents, workers, and visitors helping to give London a global competitive edge and ensuring the central activities zone is for all not the few.”
The transformation has been developed in partnership with local stakeholders, including the Northbank BID.
Lead image by Neil Speakman