The Northbank’s Modern Maypole for London Festival of Architecture 2018

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December 15, 2017

A glistening spectacle of pioneering design and engineering by ScottWhitbystudio and WhitbyWood has been revealed as the winner of the London Festival of Architecture’s ‘Modern Maypole’ competition on London’s Northbank.

The ‘Modern Maypole’ will form a contemporary focus for public events and activity on The Strand when the Festival returns to the capital on 1-30 June 2018, and is the result of a design competition organised by the Festival in partnership with The Northbank BID.

ScottWhitbystudio and WhitbyWood have drawn up plans for a ‘Modern Maypole’ made of a complex tower of 32 golden maypoles – each representing a London borough. After the Festival, the poles will be donated to schools and community organisations across the capital, forming a legacy as these totemic markers themselves become new civic beacons in London for years to come.

Designed by father and son duo architect Alex-Scott Whitby and engineer Mark Whitby, the ‘Modern Maypole’ structure embodies a hybrid of engineering ingenuity and architectural design. Each pole is held in place by ‘tensegrity’, a term coined in the 1960s by Kenneth Snelson and Buckminster Fuller, whereby the structure stands thanks to the compressive strengths of the anodized aluminium poles and the tensile strengths of coloured steel wires acting in unison. The design team also played with London’s built tradition and delved into London’s rich architectural history, finding inspiration in the ‘Skylon’ a temporary structure built during the Festival of Britain, and the form of the neighbouring church of St Mary-le-Strand, which itself is a scaled down version of the entrance towers at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The maypole will stand outside the church of St Mary-le-Strand: the site of London’s largest and long-lost maypole, which was constructed after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and towered over the 17th century city. The ‘Modern Maypole’, which draws upon London’s built history and folk tradition, will stand in a transformed cityscape as a reminder of how radically London’s skyline, character and identity have changed over the centuries. In keeping with the London Festival of Architecture’s ‘identity’ theme for 2018, the project will be a temporary landmark that also explores shifting ideas of communal identity and shared experience.

The international design contest was launched in June 2017 and was open to architects, artists, designers and engineers. ScottWhitbystudio and WhitbyWood saw off competition from a field of 32 entries to win the commission. Entries were judged by an expert jury comprising Tamsie Thomson (director, London Festival of Architecture), Julia Barfield (managing director, Marks Barfield Architects), Carole Boyd (actor playing Lynda Snell in The Archers) Jonathan Reekie (director, Somerset House Trust), Andy Downey (director, Elliot Wood Partnership), John Goodall (architecture editor, Country Life), Jonathan Morrison (architecture correspondent, The Times) and Megan Dixon (marketing and communications, The Northbank BID).

Mark Whitby, director, WhitbyWood said: 

“The Modern Maypole is the result of the wishful thinking of a father and son collaboration which has led to a ‘look no hands’ structure that is challenging our own engineering logic. Winning the competition has been both exciting and challenging for WhitbyWood as we now look to turn our design dream into a constructed reality by putting our theories to the test.“

Alex Scott-Whitby, director, ScottWhitbystudio said:

“We are delighted, humbled, and tremendously excited to have won the ‘Modern Maypole’ competition, as a team it means a great deal to all of us to have been tasked with the honour of creating a new structure on this hugely important London site. We hope that what we create will become a place for Londoners to meet, visitors to explore and a marker point that will help London forge its new identity.”

Ruth Duston, chief executive of The Northbank BID said:

“The Northbank’s upcoming addition of a Modern Maypole will enliven the Strand and Aldwych in June 2018; paving the way for the next stage of plans for the Aldwych Vision. We are excited to see a project which will pay homage to the beautiful St Mary-le-Strand church and its setting amongst some of London’s most exciting cultural institutions. Visit us and see it for yourself!”

London’s identity has changed almost beyond recognition since a maypole last stood on The Strand. For us, the ‘Modern Maypole’ is therefore a brilliant vehicle to explore how the city, and with it our sense of individual and collective identity has changed. It also offers a fascinating exploration of public space at the bustling heart of London, but most importantly will give us a brilliant showcase of architectural and engineering imagination in 2018 by a fantastic London-based team.

 

Read Architect’s Journal coverage on 14/12/17.