Bringing knowledge like the old Silk Road did
All those years ago. More than a road, it’s a path
That leads to enlightenment, lifting the lid
On science, art, history. More than a road: a way
That thousands of people expand their knowledge;
Every day; more than a road, it’s a walking-space
To a kind of open-minded open-hearted college
That welcomes everyone. Look how full this road is
Of people, a bustling, a throng, a more-than-a-road
Leading to civilisation; it’s an Exhibition. Exhibition Road.
Ian McMillan, Poet-in-Residence
Leadership, vision, quality and communication = success
Challenge the norms
Consultation is key
Trail and error
Coherence in scale
The Exhibition Road project, a rather grand one at that, has changed the area dramatically and is truly an exemplar in the way new public realm projects should be managed, designed and executed in the UK. Led by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in partnership with the City of Westminster and the Mayor of London, the changes that have happened to the public realm of this street are of a visionary scale matching the urban quality and grandeur of Exhibition Road. This is a project whose success lies in clear leadership with a clear vision along with a strong design and great clarity in communication with all those involved at both the design and construction stage.
The catalyst for change in the area was the re-planning of the one-way traffic system around South Kensington station. This has now been returned to a series of two-way streets which have reduced congestion for pedestrians and motorists alike with a knock-on benefit that traffic volumes along Exhibition Road have reduced by up to 30%. The changes that have happened around South Kensington station now seem quite natural. Spaces outside the station and along the streets make pedestrians feel that this area is once again part of London and not a race track for vehicles.
The design for Exhibition Road itself is a very strong statement of interconnection linking all places across and along the street. However, it is a design that in-itself is broken down into a series of quarters, to the north is the park with a connection to Kensington Gore followed by the cultural and residential quarters near the Albert Hall, both…Cont. …of which are in the borough of Westminster. The bulk of the space is in Kensington and Chelsea and surrounds the Natural History and Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Imperial College of London. There is a generous crossing over Cromwell Road linking these spaces to South Kensington centre.
A walk along the street gives experiences of changing character. To the south around South Kensington tube station, spaces are softer and have a high level of mixed-use interaction with pavement cafes full of life. This is a place to go to, whereas above Cromwell Road is more of a place to go through. Here, the elegant design leads you into more formal spaces around the museums, and the powerful design reflects the urban scale, but in many ways lacks an intimacy and character. Trees have been placed strategically where possible and opportunities to sit and take in the view have been missed. But the real success of this space lies in how traffic and pedestrians can interact as equals.
That said, this is truly a grand project of a scale that was needed for London in 2012. It is a project that is receiving national and international recognition, but with a construction value of over £26 million, it is hard to see how places like this can be replicated in the harsh econimic climate that we are experiencing. Exhibition Road can be seen as a special place of immense success showing clear leadership and vision with a clarity of design that has been executed excellently on site.