An under-used car-park in the heart of the West End has been transformed with 7,000 military-grade sandbags into a temporary urban park for 10 days this summer as part of the London Festival of Architecture.
The installation, named Oculus, designed by Roz Barr Architects and engineers Ramboll, sponsored by Derwent London and supported by the Arts Council and the London Borough of Camden, is the latest in a series of temporary interventions in Store Street's South Crescent driven by NLA and The Building Centre to test ideas for the future use of this small but significant piece of public realm in the heart of the West End.
The launch of Oculus marks the start of public consultation on the London Borough of Camden's proposals to remove parking bays permanently from South Crescent and free it up to become a permanent and much-needed public space for Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia. These proposals have been developed with the support of local stakeholders and tenants in the Store Street area as well as installation sponsors Derwent London. Peter Murray, Chairman of NLA and Trustee of The Building Centre, said: “The start of this consultation is a major milestone in transforming the Crescent into a much-need public open space. The London Festival of Architecture in 2010 was instrumental in proving this was achievable at a low cost and with Oculus we are continuing that process of testing ideas for how the Crescent may be used and enjoyed by its various communities in the future. We wouldn't be here without the support and vision of a large number of local organisations and individuals."
Roz Barr, Director of Roz Barr Architects, said: “The idea of a paving of sandbags was a response to the brief of building a temporary space in the city. We wanted to use a ready-made material that could through a new application form a new paving surface and seating area. The notion of using hessian sandbags – an object usually associated with either war or flooding – became appealing because of the World War II Eisenhower Centre in the twin Crescent at the other end of Alfred Place. It’s all about ‘making’ – crafting a space through a material application and creating a new public space.”
Benjamin Lesser, Development Manager of Derwent London, said: “This is a fantastic piece of urban art for the Festival but more importantly it shows how an existing piece of urban public realm can be converted from a car park into a much more enjoyable space for local communities. Derwent London have recently collaborated with Camden Council to investigate how more public open space can be delivered in Fitzrovia and are very proud to support Oculus which clearly demonstrates how this can be done.”
The hessian sandbags are used as a low-cost, ready-made building block to transform the Crescent with a newly crafted surface; creating a series of spaces, seating and a 120-seat amphitheatre topped by a suspended pool of water. The suspended pool, created from a steel ring supporting a membrane of transparent material filled with water, frames distorted views of the trees, buildings and sky above the amphitheatre and lends the installation its name – Oculus.
Oculus was built in just three days by local architects, engineers and contractors and dismantled again in just a couple of days. The sand used in the installation will be donated to Camden Parks for use in playgrounds throughout the borough.
Oculus will be open to the public from Wednesday 4 July to Thursday 12 July – local office workers, residents, and visitors are encouraged to use and enjoy the space to rest, recharge and play. A programme of free events – tai-chi, soap-box talks and performances – will be open to all. Full details are available at www.newlondonarchitecture.org andwww.buildingcentre.co.uk