The Brief

About the client

The client for this competition is the Low Line steering group — coordinated by Better Bankside. The initial Low Line idea was coined by local Southwark resident David Stephens for an architectural competition in 2013, which considered a route linking Bankside to Waterloo station.

The concept has since developed through a steering group of initial partners including The Arch Co, Better Bankside, Blue Bermondsey, Borough Market, Team London Bridge and Southwark Council. This group is steering the initial scoping, planning and communication of the project.

An emerging Friends of the Low Line Group will grow to support the progress of the project and help to re-define this unique heritage infrastructure as a new series of places that become hubs of industry, creativity and entertainment across south London. This competition will be one of the first major opportunities to engage people in the development of the Low Line concept.

Established by Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, Lund Trust supports charities, universities, institutions and causes that its founders especially care about. Since 2002, Lund Trust has given more than $64m to more than 350 organizations in the UK and internationally.

Site Overview

While the Low Line refers to the immediate routes along the base of the rail viaduct between Southwark tube station on Blackfriars Road in the west, with Southwark Park Road in the east, we are also interested in how the network of streets and commercial, residential and open spaces in its hinterland connect into this route and where the opportunities to strengthen and amplify these connections exist.

We have deliberately not defined a clear site boundary for the competition. We suggest the focus should be on the linear routes along the base of rail viaduct, and the connections into the surrounding areas and existing networks of green infrastructure.


The ambition for the Low Line is that it becomes a world class walking route underpinned with a strong vision and robust stewardship and sustainability credentials. Through this design competition, the client is keen to explore several facets of this.

High-level questions that should be addressed through the competition include:

  • Resilience — how can the green infrastructure along the Low Line help London adapt to a changing climate and contribute to city resilience?

  • Placemaking — how does green infrastructure along the Low Line contribute to placemaking objectives, how does it interface with its surrounding urban fabric? How can these objectives be balanced with the requirements of the operational railway infrastructure above?

  • Regeneration — how can green infrastructure support and add further value to the existing and emerging business and resident communities along its route?

  • Social interaction — how can green infrastructure support the health and wellbeing of resident and business communities along its length? How can the green infrastructure encourage active living and recreation along the Low Line.

  • Exemplary — how can a green vision for the Low Line be an exemplar for greening grey infrastructure and enhancing biodiversity within the city? How will it inspire more sustainability along the Low line, supporting active travel, healthier lifestyles and more efficient business practices?

  • Green Infrastructure — Outline how more and better green infrastructure could be delivered along the Low Line including:

    • inclusion of nature-based Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)

    • planting that provides a nectar source

    • tree-planting and green walls that create shade or reduce the radiation of heat off walls

    • planting that minimises the need for irrigation

    Designs should demonstrate that they have considered these issues in a meaningful way by, for example, identifying those areas along the Low Line which are likely to be heat traps.

  • Active travel and healthy streets — The Low Line offers a new walking route for London that is predominantly free of motor vehicles, and that links areas of regeneration. In this respect it will provide a further opportunity to support footfall away from some of the busier more congested streets, and thus help reduce exposure to vehicle emissions harmful air pollution. How can this opportunity be maximised?

  • Good growth — How can a green and creative vision for the Low Line support good growth – empowering people, making better places and growing prosperity along its length?

  • Communication and engagement — What approaches and ideas could be explored through this commission to engage more proactively with local residents, businesses and visitors to the Low Line?

Site Constraints

The rail viaduct remains a working railway, carrying millions of people and goods across London each year. Due to this heavy operational use on the structure, there are a range of site conditions that competition entrants should be aware of and consider within their responses to the brief.

Works within 3m of arches must fall within these rules:

  • excavations not exceeding 500mm below the existing floor level, providing the excavation is not deeper than the abutment foundations/Viaduct column footings

  • Nothing can be erected that passes the lower line of the parapet

  • Attachments to the viaduct can only be Lightweight fixings (see definition) and must be to Brick or Block.

  • Attachments can only be made below the first line of the parapet

  • Operational Railway infrastructure (i.e. gantries) cannot be attached to even if it is below the line of the parapet.

  • Rights of way to operational arches cannot be restricted in any way.

  • Works do not affect the safety, function and/or operation of the Railway in any way.

There is more detail on the site constraints and technical specifications for working near operational railway land in the ‘Resources’ section.


  • Low Line Steering Group

  • Friends of Low Line – including businesses within the rail arches & local residents

  • Adjacent landowners

  • Statutory agencies – statutory agencies including Network Rail, Greater London Authority, Southwark Council


Due to the nature of the sites outlined within the Low Line scope, a specified budget has not been identified for this project. It is envisaged that the Low Line will be delivered, incrementally over time as different sites along/adjacent to the viaduct are redeveloped, or as different funding pots become available. Teams are expected to provide impactful cost-effective design solutions.


We welcome ideas and proposals that have sustainability at their heart and reduce the reliance on the use of new materials and natural resources.


Ideas and proposals should consider maintenance requirements, in particular should bear in mind the operational needs of the working railway should be considered.


Ideas and proposals should be compliant with all relevant disability legislation.

© Royal Institute of British Architects 2019