The Plan Award 2015
Woolwich Squares - Gustafson Porter’s proposal for Woolwich Squares, encompassing Beresford Square, Greens End and General Gordon Square (approx 1ha), signifies the consolidation of a fragmented Woolwich Town Centre, rejuvenating its public spaces, and bringing people back into the heart of Woolwich, both socially and commercially. The competition winning design was Phase 3 of the local masterplan to re-organise the traffic infrastructure of Woolwich Town Centre. Completed in 2011, the project was funded through several agencies, including HCA TfL and RBG.
Royal Borough of Greenwich, the client for Woolwich Squares, set out key objectives to create a fully accessible public space for all, with feature lighting, soft landscaping and a water feature that could be drained to accommodate events. An extensive Public
Consultation Process was undertaken and the team regularly met with key user groups to discuss and develop the design.
The design is based on the concept that each square embodies an essential quality of Woolwich, whether historic or natural, to create unique spaces particular to Woolwich that can be enjoyed through the day and into the evening. 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.
The soft landscaping of General Gordon Square addresses the shortage of green open space in the centre of Woolwich, creating a ‘Garden’ that generates a sense of calm and relaxation while providing a functional space that can be transformed
and layered with other uses. This garden quality is reinforced through the choice of trees and planting, with larger trees separating the square from surrounding roads. Lawn terraces step down gently to the water scrim which is fully accessible but can also be easily drained to provide an event space.
The rationalizing/functionalist design of Beresford Square responds to the daily market, and recognizes the original historic layout of both the market and tramlines that used to cross the square. In the evening the atmosphere changes with the use of catenary lighting to energise the centre of the square, transforming it into a ‘Ballroom’.
The final scheme minimises the gradients across the site, and provides multiple locations for users to stop and rest on their journey. These features together with the protection of key sightlines through the squares were cited as reasons to award the project a milestone Secure by Design award for a public space. Clear sight lines for wheelchair users, small people and children were considered in the overall design and eye lines and cones of view have been established by the design team and applied to low level planting.
Maintenance methods and budgets were reviewed during the development of the design to ensuring that the square would be easier to maintain than previously, and to ensure that the investment would be protected for the design life of the project. The energy supply to the squares was reviewed at design stage to find ways to reduce the demand for the council. The water feature was designed to have minimum power requirements, and underground plant room recycles all water used.
Gustafson Porter’s design proposed a unified pedestrian space with two squares of differing character that complement and relate to one another, each providing an aspect of public life within the town. Greens End, a shared surface roadway linking the two squares, was designed with one material treatment and a single identity that forges it in peoples mind as a real street rather than a sum of several parts. The unity of the pedestrian space is reinforced through the palette of materials and street furniture, with special features such as the water scrim, planting and feature lighting developing the character of each square. While the language of the project is modern, the design is sensitive to the historic fabric of Woolwich, especially its Grade II listed buildings. These buildings are re-established by the new squares as key architectural features in the public realm. Natural stone materials were specified for their robustness and appearance. The predominant material is granite, to reflect the importance of the space and provide a long design life. It was deemed appropriate to specify a surface material that tied into the already developed surrounding streets and gave the town centre a greater sense of place. The new square had to reflect Woolwich’s current and future aspirations, and be robust enough to withstand 24hour public access.
Space Syntax produced pedestrian movement studies of Woolwich Town Centre to establish key routes that would reinforce the urban grain while recognizing how future development would tie into it and possible change it. The design opens up convenient diagonal routes through the centre of both squares. It removed barriers to movement such as overgrown planting, fencing and level changes and by aligning pedestrian crossings to pedestrian desire lines. This unified and strengthened the public realm, creating a stronger sense of identity for the area as a whole. The design creates a sequence of spaces catering to the different needs of users by providing places for moving, browsing and shopping, as well as places to rest and contemplate the surroundings.
Since opening, the new squares hosted some of the largest, and best attended events ever staged in Woolwich. General Gordon Square has already become a well used space at lunchtimes, early evenings and weekends, hosting many events run by local groups. Royal Borough of Greenwich has said the response to both squares exceeds all expectations, and the local public opinion is extremely positive.
Gustafson Porter is an award-winning, international landscape architecture practice. We believe landscape architecture is an essential discipline in the creation of healthy environments for the 21st century.
Our innovative designs draw inspiration from the uniqueness of place. We begin every project by researching the project’s site, context and past, in order to create a design which is responsive, sensitive and appropriate. We treat the land as a fundamental compositional element in the landscapes we create. Sculpting the ground is a distinctive feature of our work.
Our projects span climate zones, geographical characters, and historical and cultural backgrounds. In the landscape and architecture world, our work has a reputation for being of the highest design quality. In mainstream culture, our work has entered popular consciousness because we create beguilingly simple spaces which bring pleasure to everyone.