/ The meaning of public space.
What does public space mean today? What will it be tomorrow?
The centre court at Wimbledon is a fascinating demonstration of the role of public space today. Focused on an event – the tennis match – there is overwhelming public demand to attend en masse to experience the spectacle first hand. In some senses, the centre court acts as public space in a traditionally understood meaning of the term.
Close by, on Henman Hill, people gather to witness not the actual event, but the broadcasting of the event in ‘real time’. The spectacle is observed at one remove and yet the desire to gather and share this, and for this sharing to be near to the original action, is another type of public experience. Across pubs in Wimbledon and London, similar gatherings take place at a further step of removal.
Across the world the spectacle is also witnessed and, in some senses, participated in, via television, radio, the internet and social media. This is public space as experienced in the virtual realm and not always at the same time. This experience would not occur without the original ‘actual’ event taking place.
The appeal of this particular public experience is created through what we nowadays call ‘brand’. The institution and identity of the tennis tournament and, therefore, the name of Wimbledon itself is so well established and recognised that it has a global reach. The local place of Wimbledon town has become a global brand.
/ A sustainable future?
How can we make good use of bad rubbish?
Responsibility towards future generations must underline any development.
Economic, social and environmental factors must be seriously understood and considered in order that the legacy we leave does not further the current environmental crisis.
Even the Wombles understood this! Sustainability must be embedded into all design decisions – not left as an afterthought.
/ Public space in the urban realm
How can we give the urban realm back to pedestrians?
A critical question facing city and town centres today is how to rebalance public space so it is focused on the pedestrian and cyclist as well as the car. Arriving by train to Wimbledon town centre, one is faced with a very vehicle-orientated set of roads and some insular shopping malls which make a variable street experience for pedestrians. On a rainy day this experience is further diminished!
/ The Wimbledon brand
We proposed to use public space as a means to facilitate town centre development by building on the Wimbledon brand.
The brand is associated with heritage and tradition as well as technology and progress. The public associates a number of specific things with the Wimbledon brand. Three obvious choices would be:
• The British weather
We used each of these associations as inspiration.
/ The British weather
Inverted umbrella structures, constructed of recycled aluminium and plastic, link the nodes, or parks-in-the-sky, to line the town centre area. Beneath the umbrellas the roads become ‘shared surfaces’ where priority for pedestrians is assumed although vehicle access is allowed.
On a rainy day the colourful umbrellas give shelter to the shared surfaces below and gather rainwater to be harvested for strawberry-growing and lawn-watering. On a sunny day the umbrellas are opened and their undersides exposed to the sun to gather solar energy via photovoltaics. This energy can be used to pump the harvested rainwater, or to power streetlights. Like the Centre Court roof, the inverted umbrellas are responsive to the climatic conditions to create usable and enjoyable public space beneath.