Common Ground is a proposal for creating a unified civic space connecting the Tate Modern, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Culture Mile, using only illuminating road studs, a material indigenous to the site. Much the way a snowfall unifies unlike things, a field of 3,000 solar powered road studs, spaced 2 meters apart in a continuous grid, visually connects the disparate sidewalks, plazas, crosswalks, and traffic islands, creating a new legible space of public inhabitation.
Legible Public Space
Vibrant public space is as much about legibility as it is about amenity. For the public to collectively embrace, enjoy, and stake a kind of soft ownership in a space, they need to be able to identify it. They have to see it and understand it as a space. The great public spaces of London – Trafalgar Square, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park, Borough Market, etc. – each have a clear legibility. They are dynamic and vibrant spaces to inhabit, but they are also clearly defined and memorable territories. They are clearly defined voids in the city, or marked by a blanket of green grass, or by a distinctive shape, or a unique set of smells and sounds. Within the beautiful heterogeneity of the city, there need to be spaces of exception; spaces that distinguish themselves from the background static. Spaces that punctuate and give definition to our understanding of the city.
The heavily traversed path between the Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral is defined by the great institutions that mark its beginning and end. Extending this public path northward – exposing more visitors to the architectural wonders of the Barbican Estate, and the cultural offerings of the Barbican Gallery, Barbican Centre, LSO, and Guildhall School – is a worthwhile endeavor on its own. But the bigger potential is to define a new public space in London, a destination worth inhabiting on its own, not just a path between spaces. The great civic institutions are present, but what’s lacking is a legibility of the public space. Nothing in particular distinguishes these streets from all of the other streets in London. The space must be revealed to the public – highlighted with a simple but powerful gesture – in order to catalyze the collective imagination to project new futures.
The grid is open and expansive, an inclusive and non-hierarchical spatial structure. It gives definition to an existing territory, simply and immediately signifying that one space in the city is contiguous with another. The grid makes legible what already exists but is difficult to see – a cultural spine of urban space that stitches together a series of significant cultural institutions. The grid is non-prescriptive and open to multiple uses. It offers a free space that invites the public to inhabit it, to interpret it, and program it as they wish. We imagine different possible inhabitations: kids (and adults) dancing between the illuminated points, choreographed performances or parades that interact with the particular rhythm of the grid, longer term pop-up shops, street food trucks, or market stalls organized within the demarcating grid. In this way Common Ground simply sets the table, and offers an invitation for residents, workers, and visitors to activate the space.
Common Ground will be quiet and iconic at the same time. It will change throughout the day and from different vantages. During the day, the studs belong to the realm of existing road infrastructure, almost as found objects, yet act as subtle visual cues orienting visitors on the route. In the evening and at night, their brightness becomes simultaneously a clear guide and a powerful installation enhancing the vibrancy of the street. The figure of the new north-south culture spine will be visible from surrounding buildings and airplanes flying overhead. At street level, the lights will drift in and out of alignment as visitors traverse the field of lights, provoking movement and interaction.