Mapping the Bankside Urban Forest

The Webiste of the Project: Better Bankside_Bankside Urban Forest

Full Reports: Bankside_Urban_Forest_part_one & Bankside_Urban_Forest_part_two



In 2007, Witherford Watson Mann Architects were appointed as lead consultants for a public space regeneration process in the Bankside area of south London. Their report later commissioned through an invited competition, contained procedural and spatial ideas about regeneration that stood out from eleven other competitors. The competition was overseen by ‘Better Bankside’, an independent, business-owned and led BID company, with partners including the London Borough of Southwark, Tate Modern, Design For London, the Architecture Foundation, and well-established community organisations such as the Bankside Residents Forum and Bankside Open Spaces Trust.

The site is set between the River Thames and the Elephant and Castle, and Blackfriars Road and Borough High Street, the Bankside Urban Forest offers a counterpoint to comprehensive master planning.


The boundaries of the site are shown as a dashed red line; Copyright: Witherford Watson Mann Architects based upon the Ordnance Survey Map


The design intent is encapsulated in three core ideas:

  • working with the expertise of large and small organisations in the area ranging from community groups to businesses;
  • emphasising the role of small interventions many of which support existing spaces;
  • establishing an incremental approach to delivery and project reviews, where lessons learnt from the early projects refine further projects.

The proposed projects must be ‘do-able’, this Bankside Urban Forest project relies on including diverse and sometimes competing interests. A key challenge therefore lies in the co-ordination of the co-operation of a diverse client body and the collaboration of equally diverse user groups. The complexity of the challenge of inclusion through place making is further compounded by the strategic urban location of Bankside. As a highly desirable area in which to live, work and invest, established residents are confronted by escalations in land value, a rise in public and speculative interests, and a dramatic increase in tourism. The Bankside Urban Forest project aims to not only meet local needs, but to influence the substantial scale of developer-driven investment.



The Bankside Urban Forest project emphasises the role of smaller scale, incremental initiatives in the regeneration process and is underpinned by core strategies:

  • the initiation of small projects, often associated with existing public spaces, that catalyses the formation of further projects through the active involvement of user groups. Small projects are conceptualised as “seeds” for an accretion of the networks of spaces, people and activities;
  • the role of an overarching design framework to direct investment over time. The projects need to establish a repute that challenges the conventions of how corporate landscapes are delivered, as well as involving large and small organisations in the activation and transformation of their respective spaces;
  • the role of places of exchange including local and broader meeting spaces. Interventions in the public realm are also used to influence what happens in the private edges associated with the project areas.


01_ “Seeds” and the accretion of spaces and network

A member of the design team stated, ‘Basically the idea of the Urban Forest is that public space is made by people; it doesn’t exist without people.’ Small interventions in the physical landscape or “seeds” are explored as catalysts to engage and release further projects and initiatives. From the outset, site analysis included fine-grained mappings of spaces and activities across the day and night [shown as figures below]. The process of analysis engaged local expertise including the involvement of local young people in mapping their area. Their participation has become formalised, and the ‘Bankside Urban Pioneers’ is steered by the Architecture Foundation with their remit ‘to engage teams of 16 to 19 year olds in areas of London undergoing dramatic transformation.’ (





The boundaries of the site are shown as a dashed red line; Copyright: Witherford Watson Mann Architects based upon the Ordnance Survey Map


02_ An emerging framework

The framework for the Bankside Urban Forest project is conceived of and drawn as a stage-by-stage process [as figures below]. The drawings reflect the network of local spaces associated with schools, churches, and housing estates, as well as prominent destinations like Tate Modern and Borough Market. Because this approach to place making is rooted in a gradual process over time, how the overarching design ethos – both the social aims and spatial qualities – establish a repute to influence large and small contributions and investments is a challenge.


‘The seeds of the framework, spreading roots, and maturing of the framework’ (WWM 2007, p. 29-34). The boundaries of the site are shown as a dashed red line; Copyright: Witherford Watson Mann Architects based upon the Ordnance Survey Map


03_Places of exchange

‘There are a number of existing places within Bankside and Borough which in differing ways have the capacity to bring people who do not know each other into contact, places which “suggest” social engagement between different racial, ethnic and class communities, where people can flourish – Places of Exchange.’ (Witherford Watson Mann 2007, p. 27) [figure 3.jpg]. But how do locals conceive of their spaces, in the face of urban change? Some residents portray their mixed and changing neighbourhood as a ‘transient place’, and talk about the benefits and frustrations of living in an area in which much of the occupation is fleeting or short term.

‘Places of exchange’ aims to balance the provision of active public spaces with high flows of a general public including tourists, with the enhancement of reprieve spaces often claimed by smaller, more local groups. The projects will generally improve pedestrian movement through the area as many of the principles relate to slowing traffic down. The project locations, often at key intersections, should also improve way-finding. However, the design framework also recognises the need for more hidden spaces that are often located one layer back from prominent public spaces.



Figures: ‘Redcross Way’ (above) and ‘Flat Iron Square’ (below) Copyright: Witherford Watson Mann Architects


Project Summary:

  • The Bankside Urban Forest project is a design framework by Witherford Watson Mann Architects, for the incremental development of a collection of public realm projects. It relies on working with existing public spaces and organisations, through the coordination of the Bankside Urban Forest Management Group.
  • The project is located in a rapidly changing inner city area in south London. Poised between a history of well-established local networks and recent large-scale public and private regeneration, is the challenge of balancing the needs of local residents with the emerging needs of those who work in and visit the area.
  • The Bankside Urban Forest framework is without statutory powers, but provides a direction to harness local and large-scale investments. Early projects need to deliver on both spatial and social dimensions so as to provide exemplars for Better Bankside to attract and influence further investment.
  • A multi-tiered communications strategy that reaches residents, users, investors and policymakers is key. Early initiatives such as the Bankside Urban Pioneers and Sages, as well as the first stage of a Charter are underway.
  • Better Bankside provides a structure to ensure leadership and collaboration amongst development partners over time. A structure to evaluate the social and design benchmarks of the Bankside Urban Forest project is still emerging.
  • Early projects provide the platform for project review. Lessons should feedback into how the overall project evolves, and ultimately contribute to policy.


Future Info:

Project Name: Bankside Urban Forest
Lead architects: Witherford Watson Mann Architects
Project type: Urban design framework, and small incremental public space projects
Year commenced: 2007
Client: inter-organisational, steered by Better Bankside Planning Authority: London Borough of Southwark
Sources of funding: The main funding of £6.4m comes from a wide range of sources, including the London Development Agency, Better Bankside and other contributions, London Borough of Southwark and Transport for London.



Witherford Watson Mann (2007) Bankside Urban Forest, An unpublished report generated for Better Bankside, Part 1 & Part 2

Gospodini, A. (2002) ‘European Cities in Competition and the New “Uses” of Urban Design’, Journal of Urban Design, vol. 7, pp. 59-73

Greater London Authority. (2018) Demography Update

Hamnett, C. (2003) Unequal City: London in the Global Arena, London: Routledge

Hills, J., Sefton, T., and Stewart, K. (2009) Towards a More Equal Society? Poverty, Inequality and Policy since 1997, Bristol: Policy Press

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