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Studio 3.5 – 2015/16


Back to the Future – a Town Hall for Thamesmead

Helen Goodwin and Fenella Griffin

This year’s studio will explore the relationship between community and place, and what we might mean by ‘civic-ness’ through design proposals for a new Town Hall for the people of Thamesmead. This act of placemaking will include an ensemble of buildings around a new public square focused on a Town Hall with a supporting civic and community programme – a gathering place for everyone.

Studio 3.5 is going to take you ‘back to the future’ to re-examine the civic spirit and optimism which lay behind the 1960s project for Thamesmead, SE London which opened in 1968 amidst a blaze of publicity and government propaganda. Thamesmead was hailed as a ’21st century town’ – a modern community where 60,000 people will live in environmental conditions unmatched by anything that has existed before’.

Within a matter of years the dream had failed; Thamesmead’s brutalist ‘environmental conditions’ became synonymous with the idea of a broken urban society, an idea cemented in our visual imagination by films like Kubrik’s 1971 ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and by the more recent BBC drama ‘Misfits’.

Through an interdisciplinary approach and in academic partnership with Peabody Trust, we will form our own understanding of Thamesmead’s physical and societal fabric, participate in community consultation and dialogue and examine the underlying landscape conditions of a drained marshland and floodplain with it’s ever present threat of flood in a time of climate change. We will seek to design in a way that better expresses and mediates the relationship between the natural landscape and the concrete city to form stronger medial relationships in support of the different aspects and commonalities of Thamesmead’s diverse community.

The study visit (29 October – 2 November) to Helsinki and Jyvaskala, Finland will explore the work of Alvar Aalto and his more organic modern aesthetic – ‘an architecture of great humanity’ – which drew inspiration from the landscape and from his socially-minded approach to design. This will include guided tours of the Saynatsalo Town Hall, Finlandia Hall, the Villa Mairea, Jyvaskala University, the Aalto Museum and Aalto’s own house
and studio. We will reflect on Aalto’s synthesis of the spirit of place and programmatic requirements to support the craft of making buildings and public spaces resonant of a wider context to create a new ‘civicness’ – the shared aspect of community that is firmly embedded in an authentic sense of place and placemaking and offer it up to Peabody and the people of Thamesmead for their consideration.