Sunday 5 July 2020


DesignBox Architecture with Graveney and Glenthorne Schools are delighted to have been shortlisted for the Empowering Platforms competition held by the London Festival of Architecture, with Westminster Council.

The competition called for proposals to reimagine the experience that people have with the River Thames along the Westminster north bank:  A design centred around inclusivity and accessibility, creating a stimulating experience at the river-front for all.

Our proposals sought to capture the imagination and creativity of secondary school students with a response reflecting the cultural diversity and ideals from the students, our next generation of London citizens.

With the student team we developed 'YouScape'; an urban outdoor garden library.  It's a place to sit and relax and escape from the pressures of London.  It is designed to be a simple platform to connect to nature within the heart of London and engage with literature.  An oasis within the city.

Site investigation, design considerations and brainstorming

It is designed as a catalyst for community involvement, to draw people to the installation to engage with others and read a book, surrounded by greenery.  Relaxing in the installation, people can observe the passage of time, watching the activity on the river and passers-by.  A screen with planting and a wall of books separates people from the noise and bustle of the traffic behind.

'Put your feet up and read a book' was a key reaction to the site from the student team.

Initial concept ideas and MoSCoW analysis

The concept was developed to capture the scenic river views whilst isolating people from the noise of the city.  The project seeks to capture light and encourage the growth of plants, to help make it an engaging and interactive installation for everyone.  

Student concept perspectives

The selection of materials examined the practicalities of the surfaces required with opportunities to introduce colour and light into the installation.  The team selected plants which are ideal for horizontal and vertical surfaces, require little maintenance and can be easily trained.  They were identified for their variety of types, colours, flowers and even fruit.

Materials for practicality, durability and fun

Planting selected for variety of type and colour, and for ease of maintenance

The proposals were drawn up in CAD to create a measurable set of drawings for discussion with suppliers and fabricators.  The team discussed the advantages of simplifying the range of materials and number of assembly processes to enable a simple procurement route with as few supply chains as possible.  This was of increased importance in the period of social and economic lock-down because of Covid-19.

Plans, sections and elevations of the proposals for
discussions with suppliers to resolve price
and programme issues

The proposals involved a stressed skin structure in timber and polycarbonate sheet.  Each component performs several tasks.  The structural frame doubles as the book case and the polycarbonate sheet stabilises the overall enclosure and let light in.  The installation is self-supporting and can sit on rubber levelling mats, set directly on the pavement.  The installation is designed to be as simple as possible so it can be fabricated by a joiner or general builder and assembled by the student team.

Structural developments in discussion with a Structural Engineer at Price & Myers
and with feedback from timber fabricators

The proposals included solar cells with localised batteries to supply power for lighting.  A small back-up battery similar to that used in EV vehicles was proposed to keep the overall system energised.  This could be topped up periodically either by a portable charging system or swapped out for a fully charged unit.

Low energy LED strip lights concealed within the flange of the ribs were selected with colour temperature gradients to work with the changing colours of natural daylight.  An integrated photocell allows the lighting to respond to natural daylight patterns.

Services developments kept simple to be easily managed.  Proposals developed with AECOM.

The budget for the installation was £20,000+VAT, which was to include a nominal design fee of £2,000+VAT.  This left £18,000 for fabrication, installation, one relocation during the LFA 2020, maintenance whilst on site and removal at the end of the festival. With a Quantity Surveyor, we worked back from the logistical and site requirements of the project and determined that £12,000 was available for materials and fabrication to achieve the proposals. 

Exploded Isometric:
1 Structural ribs,
2 Bracing,
3 Flooring with anti-slip surface,
4 Central tower book case
 5, Rear wall book case,
6 Metal grid for training plants,
7 Polycarbonate coloured transparent roof

The proposals considered that the installation might be fabricated off-site, transported to site and lifted in to position as a single unit, with lifting eyes similar to that of a 20ft ISO container.

A place to sit, relax and read a book and engage with nature
in the heart of London

We are all stakeholders in the design of our surroundings.  YouScape, designed by our team of secondary school London students demonstrates this.  We hope that the proposals demonstrate how we all can take a greater role in working to create a more inclusive, accessible and cohesive environment.

Value engineering: Investigating options with geometry,
materials and fabrication methods to reduce costs

Discussions with suppliers identified that the curved geometry was adding a premium to the price and exceeding the budget.  The team discussed options to reduce costs without compromising the concept.

Amended scheme to meet the competition budget

The value engineered option is designed to save costs by replacing the curves geometries with faceted panels, sizing all items to work with full 8'x4' ply boards, and fabricating the installation for flat-pack assembly so it can fit into the back of a large luton van.

Value engineered scheme, exploded isometric:
1 Four base panels bolted together,
2 Six rear panels,
3 Two panels bolted together to form the lower walls,
4 Two panels with polycarbonate roof to form the upper walls on each side,
5 Central book case tower,
6 Four panels with polycarbonate sheets to form the roof

The process of working with the student team was thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening.  As our next generation of London citizens, the values and insights they brought to the project, along with commitment and collaboration was a delight to experience and work with.  We produced a very exciting and achievable design proposal despite the restrictions we worked through.  The student team was brought together in the first lockdown of 2020.  We raised the team from volunteers, reaching out through the School's Google classroom platform and we never actually met face-to-face to work on the proposals.  The project progressed through a combination of daily Zoom meetings and emailed files.  I am extremely proud of the team, firstly for rising to the challenge and secondly, for persevering through these difficult circumstances.  I'm told they thoroughly enjoyed the process and I worked to allow the students to lead the design conversations and have fun with the design.  

In addition we had assistance from the industry specialists listed below, which gave the zoom discussions an additional dimension and grounded their proposals in reality.  I understand that one student now wants to pursue a career in architecture and another in design-based engineering.

Professional Design assistance:

Structural Engineering: Price & Myers, London

Services and Sustainability Engineering: AECOM

Cost Consultant: Morham & Brotchie (Oban)


Buildability assistance:

Phil Cooper, Cooper Joinery & CNC Services

Michael Acey Furniture & Bespoke Interiors


A professional Architectural drawing class was presented by Phil Buckingham: Drawing Classes for Architects.  The class took place over Zoom and focused on interior and exterior perspective techniques to help the students develop the proposals.  


By Chris Curtis,, developed from the student’s drawings.

Our scrap-book of ideas which we used in the design discussions can be found on our Pinterest page.

I hope there will be an opportunity to repeat the process with another competition soon.

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