The Oxford Street District scheme by urban and public realm designers Publica aim to give a post-pandemic boost to the already ailing high street. Plans to “restore the area as the `must visit’ destination of choice for domestic and international visitors” were already in the pipelines before Covid-19 hit, expediting huge changes in the way people shop and work.
Westminster City Could has pledged £150m to the scheme, which will see development around three zones – Oxford Circus and Bond Street, Marble Arch and East Oxford Street – over the next decade. Changes will include moving towards a “pedestrian first” approach, adding greenery and leisure activities, reducing pollution though zero-emissions transports and encouraging smaller businesses to move into the area.
“The Oxford Street District forms a vital part of London’s positioning as a world city,” says Publica Founding Director Lucy Musgrave. “The framework sets out a hugely ambitious and exciting vision for a world-famous street and its surrounding areas. This framework brings with it a set of values on sustainability, innovation and inclusion that will provide a global showcase of urban change, and will work to better serve its community and businesses.”
“The West End is the engine of the London economy and a huge employer which has been hit hard by the effects of Covid-19,” says council leader Rachael Robathan. “We want to focus attention on this iconic centre of our city which has been increasingly overlooked and cement its status for the future as a key central London destination.”
Work is expected to begin within weeks on a number of measures that will see the pedestrianised area expanded, and improved lighting and landscaping, readying the area for the end of lockdown and the arrival of the Elizabeth Line in 2022. Dutch practice MVRDV has proposed a temporary installation to revitalise Marble Arch, which has become severed from Hyde Park to create a traffic island.
The Marble Arch Hill installation – subject to planning – will take the form of a greenery covered 25-metre viewing platform overlooking the shopping district and adjacent park. The mountain-like structure made up from scaffolding and planters, which recalls the practice’s unrealised 2004 Serpentine Pavilion, is intended to create a new meeting spot for shoppers on the end of the high street.
“This project is a wonderful opportunity to give an impulse to a highly recognisable location in London,” says MVRDV founding partner Winy Maas. “It’s a location full of contradictions, and our design highlights that. By adding this landscape element, we make a comment on the urban layout of the Marble Arch, and by looking to the site’s history, we make a comment on the area’s future. We enlarge the park and lift it at the corner. Marble Arch Hill strengthens the connection between Oxford Street and the park via the Marble Arch. Can this temporary addition help inspire the city to undo the mistakes of the 1960s, and repair that connection?”
“We hope it will give people an opportunity to look afresh and with wonder at this well known, but sadly increasingly overlooked, area to recognise its beauty and importance,” says Robathan. “We want visitors to appreciate the wider context of this iconic location and its close connections to Oxford Street and Hyde Park, as well as other key destinations in the West End and beyond.”