Axonometric drawing of Somers Town by NOOMA Studio © NOOMA Studio
London-based design and architecture practice, NOOMA Studio, are the winners of Somers Town Acts, a design competition organised by the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) and the London Borough of Camden. With their winning scheme ‘The Phoenix Road Performing Gardens’, NOOMA Studio envisions a street garden for the people of Somers Town, which facilitates performance, showcases the spirit of the local community, and explores alternative scenarios for the road to be pedestrianised during its weekend-long closure at the end of June.
Somers Town is an area characterised by its inwards facing green spaces, ‘The Phoenix Road Performing Gardens’ flips this urban character on its head by proposing an outward-facing garden on Phoenix Road, rekindling connections with surrounding neighbourhoods that were lost during the Covid-19 pandemic. In response to the LFA 2022’s theme of ‘Act’, NOOMA Studio has defined three acts which will facilitate spontaneous performances throughout June: the speaker, the performer, and the storyteller. This concept will be further developed with Camden Council and local stakeholders in the lead up to the Festival.
From left to right: The speaker, the performer, the storyteller © NOOMA Studio
Addressing the busiest corner of Phoenix Road, the speaker’s podium will be Somers Town’s own speaker’s corner, a platform for everyone walking through with something to say. ‘The Phoenix Road Performing Gardens’ will also feature a performing stage on the central point of the road, offering an opportunity for passers-by to practice, play or observe a theatrical moment. A curtain will blow above the height of the installation, creating a dramatic effect for the street throughout the festival, inviting the audience to interact with it. The last element of the scheme celebrates oral tradition with a playful storytelling structure, which will offer entertainment for children as it can be used by local schools or play groups for storytelling purposes.
NOOMA Studio will be working in partnership with local groups including The Place, a local contemporary dance school, and a local women’s centre and other local stakeholders on activating the intervention. Together they will offer a programme of performative events, establishing spontaneous spaces on Phoenix Road and providing a platform for the local community to perform, meet, and exchange.
‘The Phoenix Road Performing Gardens’ will also provide an ecological legacy to Somers Town and its surrounding neighbourhoods. Having partnered with local community gardeners, NOOMA Studio will build the installation using borrowed plants, which can be gifted to Somers Town after the close of the installation, to increase the area’s ecological infrastructure. The installation will also feature reusable and demountable materials, such as barrels and timber. This approach allows for a limited waste and lower carbon impact, but also a unique and memorable landscape.
The practice has now been awarded £25,000 + VAT (which includes a £5,000 design fee) to develop a fully costed, feasible design that will be delivered at the end of June 2022. A weekend-long road closure is envisaged at the end of June and the scheme will act as a focal point and platform for LFA 2022, bringing events, activities, and people together. ‘The Phoenix Road Performing Gardens’ will remain in-situ for 28 days but might stay on site for up to a year. After LFA 2022, the installation might also be part of other Somers Town events, including the Somers Town Festival, as per NOOMA Studio’s desire to provide benefits to the local community beyond the Festival.
Ramsey Yassa, Founding Director of NOOMA Studio, said: “NOOMA Studio are thrilled to be working with Somers Town, Camden Council and the London Festival of Architecture to celebrate the spirit of this rich community. We will create the Performing Gardens together with local groups and help to build a legacy for the council’s greening infrastructure goals. Through site specific, improvised performance, we will blur the lines between stage and audience, an event to remember for Somers Town and visitors.”
Rosa Rogina, Director of London Festival of Architecture, said: “We’re so proud to have been part of the Somers Town Acts project. As one of the highlights of LFA 2022, this incredible project is a great example of what happens when you champion emerging talent and create something that truly makes a difference to people’s lives. Our collaboration with NOOMA Studio and the London Borough of Camden will deliver a fantastic legacy for LFA 2022, which will activate Somers Town and its surrounding neighbourhoods.”
The competition was judged by:
- Sarah Ellie, Community representative
- Slaney Devlin, Somers Town Neighbourhood Forum
- Sophie Thompson, LDA Design
- Moira Ugoji, Head of Libraries, Arts and Tourism, Camden Council
- Rosa Rogina, Director, London Festival of Architecture (Chair)