Lewisham Gateway Guest Blog: Imola Bérczi

17.01.24 4 min read by Imola Bérczi, Partner at WOMO Architects

Designing a destination: putting the community at the heart of Lewisham Gateway

Imola Bérczi, Partner at WOMO Architects who led the delivery of Lewisham Gateway’s masterplan, explores how the redevelopment was designed to reflect the wishes of the local community

Lewisham is a vibrant borough, full of passionate and engaged communities. Lewisham Gateway provided a unique opportunity to transform an underutilised roundabout at the heart of the Borough, but central to its success was ensuring that is would serve and support the local community for generations to come. Here, I reflect on the steps we took to deliver a masterplan which reflected the wishes and ambitions of local people.

Bringing the community with us

When I began my journey with Lewisham Gateway, I was struck by borough’s unique character. With an incredible vibrancy, matched by thriving multicultural communities and a youth-oriented culture, we were determined to ensure that this project enhanced the identity and community spirit of the local area. This couldn’t be achieved by siloing our team away from the community – we needed to be led by the wishes and desire of the community.

As a result, we held several ‘town hall’ style sessions, which offered local people a chance to share their vision and desires for the site. These sessions, combined with other outreach initiatives, meant that over 5,000 people engaged in the design process for the masterplan, giving us a tangible understanding for how this project could reflect the Lewisham community.

The scale of engagement, and diverse mix of people from the community it attracted, was inspiring to be part of and there was a real sense of optimism about what the project could bring to the site.

Designing a destination

The central aspiration from local people was to see the site become a true ‘destination’. The community wanted to challenge the historic view of needing to leave the borough to find existing places to see friends and family, with Lewisham Gateway a key opportunity to help achieve this.

Yet, the site had consisted of a loud, busy and bustling roundabout lying adjacent to Lewisham Station. Reimagining this to become the destination the community was calling for, while ensuring that the development reflected the unique character of the area, presented a unique challenge.

We took inspiration from cities like Boston, Melbourne, New York and other major cities which hold developments which successfully navigate this challenge by having a multi-layered approach to how individuals interacted with the built environment.

We didn’t want to deliver a site which had a generic repeatability but rather deliver variation and different layers so that there are many ways to experience Lewisham Gateway, helping to entrench the vibrant sense of community.

As a result, we introduced a range of heights and levels of the buildings and ground spaces, which means that there are countless perspectives through which to experience the space, with wide variation across these experiences. The varied textures on the façade counteract the potential for monotony, and instead offers an engaging visual experience.

Putting pedestrians first

Along with a distinctive and varied environment, central to creating a unique destination was to prioritise the pedestrian experience. Unlike a roundabout, we recognised that pedestrianised space welcomes community participation, whether that is through the growth of retail, or in facilitating the creation of destinations, such as the cinema, within the space.

A key benefit from this result can be found at Confluence Park. Here, we created a beautiful new pedestrian space at the heart of the site where the two rivers cross through the development. Through a space which was once merely a conduit for traffic, the development has transformed the area into one which can offer a genuinely communal use. While the opportunity remains for people to pass through the space between the town centre and the station, that experience has been transformed for the better: from a roundabout to shared, green space.

Delivering over the long-term

Central to delivering this vision was to ensure that this project was more than just an investment in the existing communities in Lewisham, but a public good that serves generations to come too. Yet delivering and staying true to this vision over twenty years is a unique challenge. In some ways, it is similar to a relay, with Muse a constant while others contributed for shorter periods of time.

In circumstances like these, it can be easy to lose track of the initial aims or be drawn away from the big picture. However, our shared commitment to delivering the hopes and ambitions of the local community has never wavered.

This means that, together, we can feel genuine achievement for our work at Lewisham Gateway. By working together with partners and the community, we have delivered not just a beautiful neighbourhood, with more than 1000 new homes, but one which serves the residents of today, and all of those to come.

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