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Won in a competition staged by Wandsworth Council and The Balham Partnership, and supported by the Mayor of London, the scheme comprises four projects:
• Enhancing the railway bridge environment to increase footfall and unlock the potential of the adjacent areas
• Public realm improvements to Hildreth Street to make it a vibrant market and café strip
• Public realm improvements to Balham Community Space
• A creative solution to the ‘Ugly Wall’ - a prominent but unattractive gable wall
Collectively, the project helps link together Balham’s public spaces, promote Balham’s identity and encourage visitors to explore Balham.
The scheme has overriding material and art themes which link all the project components together helping to enhance Balham’s identity. The project has been subject to a wide and innovative consultation process.
Engaging the community
Intensive consultation activities have been carried out with Balham businesses, market traders, residents, Councillors, Council officers, the town centre partnership, landowners and other key stakeholders, including:
(a) Design workshop with Balham Partnership members (which includes representative businesses, Councillors and community/ resident groups), Council officers and other key stakeholders
(b) Presentations to Balham Partnership Board, Balham Partnership Townscape Group, Council Officer Working Group, Councillor briefings and Hildreth Street Traders Association
(c) Meetings with landowners including Network Rail, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, and Languard Investments
(d) Public consultation event attended by over 600 visitors. This included performance artists and the construction of a hot air balloon basket to help the project "lift off".
(e) Interviews with businesses and market traders.
The real test of these processes is how they shape and influence the plan. The feedback received helped inform the public art element and integrate it with the proposals in a place specific and purposeful way.
Due to funding deadlines the four schemes were let as one single contract and became a phased project over one and a half years due to extended negotiations with four separate landowners. This meant that any delay to one site affected the contract completion date for all sites so it may have been more advantageous to let separate contracts where the start dates could have been adjusted. Nonetheless, the phasing did allow Wandsworth Council to see the transformative effect of the completed early phases which gave them confidence to continue and ensured their support throughout.
Contribution to Urban Design Practice
The team were keen to develop a powerful design strategy that would unite the projects in the initiative through a common approach to materiality and public art. Artist Tod Hanson was appointed for his ability to create place-specific art. He was briefed to:
• Create a unique visual language for Balham
• Create visual elements which connect the town centre sites
• Work in collaboration with the design team (Metropolitan Workshop), integrating artwork holistically with the public realm improvements
Using the architectural motifs and historical identity of Balham, Tod developed repeating patterns and artworks based on Balham’s rooftops. Tod then worked with the design team to develop and integrate these patterns and artworks into the public realm designs, particularly with regards to the railway bridge and ugly wall sites. The design team decided to use green faience tiles, as the depth and richness of colour in the glaze brings an opulence and tactile quality which complements the artist’s relief design. The result is an innovative design response which is unique and meaningful to Balham
The project has been effective at solving several long-standing issues in the town centre and has promoted an improved image of Balham. More generally, the project has been successful at integrating the existing community space within Balham, improving the public realm adjoining the two supermarkets in the town centre and improving usage of previously peripheral areas. The improvements to Hildreth Street in particular have significantly enhanced the image of the area, attracting new shops and increasing footfall.