Competition Brief

This is the brief for a new Urban Design, Landscape, Architecture and Public Realm competition for Vauxhall, on London's South Bank.

Imagine you are visiting a central neighbourhood in a large European city. Your senses are alive to things that are the same but different – sights and smells, tastes and sounds. You notice colourful planting, playful lighting, intriguing public art. Of course there are apartment buildings and office blocks, but it is the feel of the streets around them that makes the real impact. Is it easy to find your way around? Does it feel safe and clean, bland or beautiful, does it encourage you to linger or get through as fast as possible? In short does it feel as though anyone has invested time, energy and ideas here?

Here in London Vauxhall we are asking the same questions of our neighbourhood. What message does our everyday experience of streets and public spaces give to the people who work, live and invest here? How can we make the most of Vauxhall's new opportunities?

At the moment, the public realm is dominated by a notorious traffic gyratory and a spine of railway arches that cut most of Vauxhall off from the river, yet our neighbourhood is the missing link between the New US Embassy Quarter and London's South Bank, with its theatres and concert halls.

However investment is coming, with development schemes including Battersea Power-Station and the new Damien Hirst gallery; and with it comes the opportunity to face up to the challenge of the disconnected places and railway arches. We want to create vibrant Green Links and strong Urban connections. We want our public realm to create a striking and strong new identity for Vauxhall, so it's clear to employees, residents and visitors that ideas and energy are what Vauxhall is all about.

Vauxhall is at the heart of an area of huge new opportunity in London and we plan to make the most of it. Now we want your urban design, landscape and place-making ideas to help us do it.

Introducing the client – who we are and what we want to do

The client for this design competition is Vauxhall One, the new Business Improvement District (BID) for Vauxhall. Vauxhall One came into being in February 2012 when local businesses voted to invest their own money to bring benefits and improvements to the area. Like other successful BIDs along London's South Bank, Vauxhall One is a business-led organisation whose key priorities are set by its members. They focus on place making and place management – making Vauxhall feel safer, integrating the day and night-time economies, building employment and training opportunities and improving the public realm. This project is central to our strategy for the area.

Introducing the area – opportunities and challenges for Vauxhall

London as a city is going through an incredible period of change and growth and Vauxhall is no exception. It lies within the wider Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea (VNEB) Opportunity Area, which will play a key part of the future prosperity of London, with plans including 16,000 new homes, up to 25,000 new jobs and an extension to London Underground's Northern line.

Vauxhall today is home to MI6 and the future home of the American Embassy, as well as being known across London and beyond for its thriving nightlife. Sadly it is also known as a difficult and disconnected environment to navigate. There are green spaces, if you can find them, but the most distinctive feature is the dozen or so railway arches that thread across the neighbourhood, creating a barrier to the riverside and an unwelcoming environment for pedestrians.

Yet in the 18th century this area was the height of fashion. If you got lost in the walks of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens it was probably through choice, but the pleasures here were cultured as well as illicit. In 1749 Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks was given its debut in Vauxhall. (It will be replayed, fireworks and all, in an outdoor Handel Picnic concert in June 2013 on Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens!)

We know that Vauxhall has a richer story to tell than our streetscape might currently make you think – and the public realm is the place to tell that story.

Some of the many faces of Vauxhall

Glass Manufacture: Mirror, mirror - embarking for a night on the town
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries north-shore women of fashion preparing for a night on the town, perhaps in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, would have checked their beauty spots in a Vauxhall–made glass mirror.

National Intelligence: Welcome to the home of Spooks
It's no secret that the Secret Intelligence Services have chosen Vauxhall for their HQ – we saw it in Skyfall. Now that the fictional Spooks have shown us into the world of espionage it makes us wonder, how often does James Bond come to Vauxhall?

Art Galleries: A new cultural heart for London
Vauxhall is undergoing a cultural renaissance. The arrival of Damien Hirst's own gallery on Newport Street will herald a new hub in the art world, celebrating the contemporary and asking what's next for Vauxhall?

How you can help – design guidance to reconnect and reveal Vauxhall

We are fortunate that some of the best architects in the world have been commissioned for new developments in Vauxhall, including Rogers Stirk Harbour, Foster and Partners, Caruso St. John and Allies and Morrison. This investment in new buildings means we can focus on the quality and feel of the green spaces and streets that link them, giving us a remarkable opportunity for innovation.

Vauxhall One has high ambitions. We plan to challenge perceptions of Vauxhall, by improving connectivity and rebuilding a sense of place. In New York the High Line has shown what can be achieved with a sculptural trail and linear urban park. Vauxhall also has an opportunity to create an outstanding new addition to the urban environment.

Vauxhall One is working with the RIBA, Landscape Institute and the Garden Museum to commission a creative urban and landscape scheme. The aim of the scheme is to reconnect the disjointed parts of the neighbourhood, to build a better visual perception of Vauxhall beyond its roundabouts and roads and to create an identifiable pathway and narrative through the area, linking the railway arches, green spaces and public art into a distinctive place once again. Show us your ways to connect the parks, gardens and walkways into a coherent and exciting green trail, from Vauxhall Park and the Pleasure Gardens up to Lambeth Palace and beyond.

The first element of this – the Regeneration of the Rail Arches – is already underway. Working with Network Rail, the developers and Lambeth Council, Vauxhall One has identified a programme for investment and design in the railway arches, linking each developer and their architect to a specific arch and agreeing with them a distinctive design for each that will grow into Vauxhall's sculptural trail. Responding to the distinctive character of our local area, the individual designs will enrich the experience of walking and cycling around Vauxhall, as well as wider perceptions of our area for continued investment. As more people choose to walk through the arches they naturally become safer places to be. This will turn a barrier into an opportunity.

Rail Arch Regeneration has already been included in Lambeth Council's new Supplementary Planning Guidance for Vauxhall, published for consultation in October 2012. Following a review of the rail arches and new developments, Vauxhall One has created a map of the Business Improvement District to show where the opportunities lie, and based on anticipated investment, we hope agreement on all 12 arches will be in place by 2017, with new schemes underway by the end of the year.

The photo shows the first step in our rail arch regeneration. It captures the energy and spirit we would like to bring to the district and gives an idea of how redesigned arches can make a difference. The pilot project by Base Associates features a light installation on New Spring Gardens Walk.

We are looking for concepts and visualizations to create this sense of place in Vauxhall. As with the High Line in New York, we believe that the answer lies with both architecture and landscape design: we are looking for entries that offer both, whether as combined practices or inter-disciplinary proposals.

What's next?

If you would like to contribute ideas to the renaissance of Vauxhall we would love to see your ideas.

What we want to see?

  1. Two identical A1 Boards with your creative ideas;
  2. One A1 Board will be used for Internal Display at the Garden Museum.
  3. One duplicate A1 Laminated Board will be used for External Display on our Cultural Trail through the parks and railway arches of Vauxhall.
  4. An A3 booklet of no more than 10 pages showing context and strategy.
  5. The designs should highlight;
    1. Urban Design interventions and street-scape
    2. Hard and Soft landscape ideas
    3. Horticultural, street trees and planting ideas
    4. Ideas for public art and street theatre
    5. Ideas for outside concerts
    6. Ideas for Green connections between the parks and gardens
    7. Ideas for Green connections to the river
    8. Ideas for pocket parks in under-used areas
    9. Ideas for a Cultural and Green Trail that improves connectivity
    10. Show us why you would want to walk and cycle from Vauxhall to the South Bank and how this will connect into the broader VNEB plans