Olympia: how to avoid kitsch – and enhance community

Currently, for most local people, the Olympia Venue in Hammersmith exists in the background as a large grey blob. The paint-job on the Art Deco frontage couldn’t be worse.  The only time local people notice Olympia is when it causes traffic chaos.

The new owners of Olympia plan to change all this. They want to open the site back up into its separate, listed, historic buildings.  They want to create public spaces within and around these lovely buildings over a 14 acre site.

What they plan sounds very good:

  • Underground loading to take traffic off the street;
  • Olympia Way pedestrianised – as per this picture;
  • New public green space opening on to Blythe Road;
  • A glass-topped roof terrace with restaurants and cafes;
  • New indoor spaces including two hotels, theatre and cinema venues, community space, independent retailers, and new offices.

Look at it all here – scroll right down for the most important visuals.

The involvement of Thomas Heatherwick of Routemaster Bus and Olympia Flame fame should make us all feel glad.  Have a look at some of his other projects here

What could possibly go wrong?

My main concern is that treating the 14 acre site too much as a single “destination” with similar design themes could end up too much like a theme-park.   Too much cohesive good-taste piled too high could bite its own tail in the form of kitsch…..

Here are some things Olympia’s owners could do to avoid this.

1. Break the scheme into its constituent parts and settle these into the wider landscape

I’m worried that there is too much of a theme running through Olympia’s plans – being the curved Deco-like echo. Have a look at all the pictures to see this.

Olympia could consider breaking out the scheme into its separate parts and ensuring that each building is beautiful in its own terms.  Why should they all echo each other in an overly internally referential way?  Each building should make references to the wider architectural heritage not just to each other.

2. Design the whole thing for 30 years hence

We know that the original Olympia buildings will look fantastic in 30 years – because they do now – apart from the horrible paint job on the Deco frontage.   But what about the modern additions?  I have never seen a modern building that has aged well.  That is because they don’t seem to be able to settle into themselves.  They are made of stiff materials and they remain perpetually stiff and upright even as they get old.  They develop the quietly sad look of someone aging who is unable to let go of youth –  like Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice.  This could be avoided if the architects specifically think about how the buildings will look in 30 and 100 years.  Here on the right is one of the buildings opposite Olympia.  What underlying principles helped this architect get it so right? Here is a picture of another building down the road from Olympia. What were the architect’s hopes for this building?  They at least could have built in grip holes for ivy.

3. Make sure there is plenty of space for local people

No community likes a large space at its heart which they perpetually walk around, not into.  The local community offering will be vital to give Olympia a beating heart.

My preference is for a local museum and arts and history hub.  I’ve joined class trips where children, parents, and teachers suffer for a day visiting the Science or Natural History Museum.  Nobody says but everybody knows that nobody learns anything.  It’s noisy and stressful and barely even pleasant.

There is so much history and art history locally – let’s create a space for it.  Having school kids coming and going from Olympia on a daily basis will really give it a beating heart.  As will providing a meeting place for all the older people, who generation after generation, work to preserve the things they have loved.

4.  Design in spaces for teenagers 

As a local councillor I sat in meeting where we “designed out” anti-social behaviour.  Sometimes these meetings fairly overtly attempted to “design out” teenagers.

We lock our local parks at night and I’ve always wondered where teenagers are actually meant to hang out.

Our teenagers are Olympia’s future customers and future staff.  Olympia would be doing all of us a great favour if they designed in places – eg along Olympia Way – for teenagers to be able to hang out, having bought a coffee or nothing.  The current mock-ups of the new Olympia Way look a bit blank.  We need some designed-in hanging-out space – something Thomas Heatherwick is clearly perfect for.

5.  Design in spaces for mothers and young children

There are lots of pockets of green space in Avonmore, Brook Green, and further north.  But most of these are small and only one has a decent playground.  When you are a mother at home with young children, you generally don’t want to go and sit in a  peaceful green space and stare at the grass. After watching The Little Mermaid in the morning, like Ariel you want to be where the people are.   So it would be good to put in seating / play equipment for carers and kids.  I like the yellow seats along the South Bank that kids can also climb on. I love this spiral in a local school – this is perfect for mothers, kids, office workers to eat their lunch.  I know Mr Heatherwick “could make us something like this but better. It even echoes the Olympia curves….

Our aim should be that Olympia becomes a place where local people hang out on a daily basis.  We also want to know that it will look beautiful now and in a hundred years.  Build it and we will come.

Update to post: new round of consultations – invitation as follows: 

The next round of consultation on… the future of Olympia… will take place… on the 14th and 16th August between 4pm and 8pm and 18th August between 11am and 3pm.

The consultation … will provide an update on the progression of design for the new theatre and performing arts space, public realm, offices, hotels, cafés and restaurants, as well as providing further detail on traffic management and how we have taken your feedback on board and into the proposals and overall vision for Olympia London.

The consultation will be held in the Upper Pillar Hall, which can be accessed via Pillar Hall’s main entrance opposite the Overground station on Olympia Way.  We realise some people may be on holiday as it is August, therefore if you are unable to attend… please contact our community engagement team who will be arranging additional dates in the weeks following. They can be contacted via email at olympia@connectpa.co.uk or by calling 0207 592 9592.”

Another contender for Hammersmith’s worst piece of public art

The great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, said “A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines“.

Perhaps when the owners of Windsor Plaza on Hammersmith Road bought this sculpture they already had the planting scheme in mind.

Unfortunately it’s a little more visible in winter.

No doubt it was put in place under one of those arrangements where a developer makes a public contribution as part of receiving permission for their development.

My feeling is that most people would prefer these contributions to be spent on more useable enhancements to our shared public spaces – seating or planting or play equipment – or fountains.

Purchasing art by Committee is a recipe for disaster – or let us be ready with the shrubbery and the vines.

Is a green space a green space when it is full of nettles?

When I was a Councillor in Avonmore & Brook Green I enjoyed doing “walkabouts” around the Lytton Estate with Council officers and local residents.  We always stopped to look at two derelict “green spaces” outside Burne Jones House.  These sit on the same side as the access stairs and all the residents’ front balconies and doorways.  They are the main green spaces that all residents in the block walk past day in day out, year in year out.

It is a pity then that these spaces remain derelict and uncared for year after year. In the picture shown one of the spaces is indeed green, but those are nettles that you see.  When we did the walkabouts nobody had any doubt that these spaces were within the remit of the gardening and site maintenance teams to care for.  Everyone agreed that something needed to be done.  We ticked boxes, made notes, and took actions.  Except that we collectively didn’t.  The gardens remain the same.

Other parts of the Lytton Estate are beautifully cared for.  But it’s not acceptable to cut corners and manage budgets by leaving this or that area out.  Particularly when they are as prominent as these little squares are for hundreds of residents.  Sure, after many years of neglect the soil is likely to be awful – and with the low railings the areas are a magnet for dogs.  Officers also said that sometimes, not too deep under these sorts of spots, you can find stony rubble.  A corner cut, many years ago.

Nevertheless the right answer is not to do nothing year after year. These spots need to be prioritised for some love and care. After all the walkabouts, notes, actions, and agreements, I thought we would have spring bulbs in 2018.  Could we make that 2019?

Is this Hammersmith’s worst piece of public art?

This sculpture stands in the grounds of Charing Cross hospital.  I walk past it most weeks and have always been impressed by its seemingly audacious meaninglessness.

My father died in Charing Cross hospital.  So did my beloved great aunt.  So when I walk through the grounds I’m usually thinking of them and the meaning of our life here on this earth.

That brings me to Shakespeare:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

 

Many of us do not share this bleak outlook.  But perhaps the sculptor did. Perhaps the sculpture too, signifies absolutely nothing.

A new college and ~500 new homes for West Kensington

West London College in West Kensington has been planning a complete rebuild of their facilities for some time now.  They regard the current college buildings as not fit for purpose and want to build a new college on part of the site. This would be funded by new housing on the rest of the site.

At last the consultation is beginning and I strongly urge local residents to attend.  This development will have a major impact on the wider neighbourhood.

The consultation dates are: Wednesday 13 June 2.30 – 8pm and Saturday 16 June 10am – 3pm.  The college is on Gliddon Road, postcode W14 9BL, just north of the Barons Court tube station.

As you can see from the picture the plan is for a very significant “densification” of the site. The proposal includes approximately 470 new homes as well as public space that will be accessible by all residents.  What this will consist of I presume will be made clear at the exhibition – or options will be given.  For me a concern is that the residential blocks will be 10 – 12 storeys high at their highest.  In my view this is too high and represents very significant height creep.

The College plans to go for detailed planning permission in two parts: the college plans first, and then the detailed plans for the housing at a later date.  Our target as local residents should be that this becomes a development that we are all proud of, and are pleased to have seen happen.  I am a great fan of Fitzgeorge and Fitzjames Avenue – as well as the stunning and unusual St Pauls Court.  Our goal should be to make this new development “as good”.  How can we achieve that?  By working together.

I understand that the College’s target is to get the first detailed planning application in over July / August.  Of course many people will be away over part of this time so I suggest that residents – almost from tomorrow – ask the College and the Council to guarantee an extension on the 3 weeks, and to ensure that the response period goes through into September when more people will be around and “refocusing”.

If you are unable to attend the exhibitions “Your Shout” has provided this contact number – 0207 587 3049 – and have said that they will “send you further details on the proposals, including the exhibition banners”.

Honeypot gives young carers a break

Laura Gleeson writes:

Since 1996 Honeypot has been working to enhance the lives of young carers and vulnerable children aged 5 – 12 years old. Honeypot is the only charity in the UK to provide respite breaks and on-going outreach support throughout a child’s formative years. The charity gives young carers a break from demanding and stressful responsibilities at home and provides a safe, nurturing environment where children at risk can develop their full potential.

Every Honeypot child receives a birthday card, and a Christmas present. Our Christmas Road Show begins every year in October, travelling the country to hand deliver as many Christmas presents as possible. For many of the children, it will be the only present they receive.

Although our service is completely free to the children and families we support, it comes at a price. We need to raise £1.5 million pounds a year to offer our help, and we receive no government funding.

This year Honeypot is running an inclusive challenge event – 1,2, Bee 

The event is inclusive and aimed at participants aged 5 – 95 years to encourage fundraising, awareness, to keep adults and children active and for those looking for a challenge.

Sign up, choose a distance and then have the whole month of June to complete the challenge however and wherever you like; parkrun, in your swimming lessons, or cycle around the park! Send in your evidence and each participant will receive a medal and hopefully have lots of fun.

To register to take part, go to – bit.ly/12beeactive.

For more information about Honeypot or the event, visit our website www.honeypot.org.uk or contact Laura on 020 7602 2631/ laurag@honeypot.org.uk

 

Have the opponents of CS9 won a quiet victory?

The Hammersmith & Fulham Labour Party election manifesto says: “We are lobbying the Mayor to run the CS9 cycle route down the A4, not King Street or Hammersmith Road.”

Labour election leaflets contained the same statement. The only confusing thing is the phrase “we are lobbying“. This implies that the Mayor of London has the final say over where the cycle superhighway runs and therefore requires lobbying. But he does not. Hammersmith & Fulham transport officers have made clear that the final say over the use of these streets rests with Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

Labour councillors have also made this clear to residents. One anti-CS9 group copied me to this from a Labour Councillor “The council’s stated preference is for a cycle superhighway to run along the A4 not Hammersmith Rd. As the ultimate decision lies with LBHF, we can probably assume that CS9 will not go ahead in the form in which it was presented”. Fairly straight-forward, repeating the manifesto commitment, but again clarifying where the decision lies.

Of course the use of the phrase “we are lobbying” is designed to “please all of the people”.  Group A should love us because we tried to stop it and Group B should also love us because we let it go ahead.

****

So residents should now be looking for some answers and for some commitments. Residents are entitled to know how the Council Administration reached its decision.  They also need to know what “lobbying the Mayor” actually means in this context.

Since late last year the Council has been receiving submissions from residents on CS9. At a Council Committee meeting earlier this year which discussed CS9, it would have been entirely possible for a summary of the consultation’s results to be presented. But no information was provided. Hammersmith & Fulham residents remain in the dark about the results of the local consultation, and how the responses break down by how close people live to the proposed route or by their preferred transport methods.  They are also in the dark as to why H&F Council has decided to “lobby the Mayor” to change the CS9 route. Those in favour of CS9 will be particularly keen to understand and debate the change of heart and to understand the policy rationale behind it.

Labour’s Manifesto says this: “… we are changing the way the council relates to and works with our residents. From the start, we said we would seek to do things with our residents, not to them, and gave residents greater powers to engage with the council.” The manifesto also says “We decided to make policy in public, too …”

As far as CS9 goes, these commitments are empty words.  The Council has long been able to share the consultation results with residents.  It has declined to do so.  As for making policy in public, I am sure all those in favour of CS9 and all those against CS9, are more than keen to participate in this process.  We need venues, dates, and information.