A major new public space for London was unveiled at Strand Aldwych on 7 December 2022, following the transformation of one of the capital’s most congested and polluted streets into a world-class destination.
Over the past two years, busy roadways have been converted into a welcoming public space measuring more than 7000m2 – the size of a football pitch – along the Strand, complemented by a vastly improved experience for pedestrians across Aldwych.
Westminster City Council has invested £22m in the project which links together some of the capital’s most important cultural and educational centres like never before and creates a new destination in its own right – a social space for these neighbouring institutions to co-mingle and interact.
It has been developed in partnership with local stakeholders including the Northbank BID, King’s College London, London School of Economics, Somerset House Trust, St Mary Le Strand and The Courtauld Institute.
Other highlights of the transformation scheme include:
Cllr Geoff Barraclough, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for Place Shaping and the Economy, said: “Anyone familiar with that part of Westminster will know just how awful it was for pedestrians, who would take their life in their hands every time they tried to get from one side of Aldwych, across to Strand.
“And instead of being a bright and welcoming entrance into Covent Garden and the West End, Bush House was marooned on a grey traffic island amid a sea of vehicle fumes.
“Schemes like this one demonstrate the inherent value of high-quality public space, and how they can benefit residents, workers, and visitors helping to give London a global competitive edge and ensuring the central activities zone is for all not the few.”
Ruth Duston, OBE, OC, CEO of the Northbank Business Improvement District, said: “Seeing collective will shift into collective action has been incredibly rewarding for the BID and our business community and this scheme provides a blueprint for the delivery of major projects in the future. Beyond the opening of the new space in December this will remain a partnership project, from curation of the space to the management of it.
“The continued collaborative process will undoubtedly deliver better activation and management of the new space, ensuring wider views are heard, innovation is embraced, and that we ultimately create a space that is welcoming, accessible and I hope, beloved by all.”
Jonathan Reekie, Director of Somerset House Trust, and chair of the Strand Aldwych Joint Project Board and the Activation & Curation steering group, said: “Somerset House has been delighted to play a leading part with many other local public and private stakeholders in this special partnership to create a new public space for London.
“The vision is routed in the locality drawing on the unique mix of history, community, world class culture and learning. It is a space that will draw from the past and help us shape the future of our great city. This intervention vastly improves air quality and will reveal to locals, Londoners and visitors, a vibrant and under-appreciated corner of London.”
Professor Shitij Kapur, King’s College London principal and president, said: “This transformational project creates a tranquil pedestrian-friendly space at the heart of London, enabling our community of students, researchers and staff to engage and connect the public and our local communities with life-changing ideas and learning.
“We look forward to working closely with our neighbouring cultural partners, with the Northbank Bid and with Westminster City Council to bring this new destination to life and contribute to the future of our extraordinary city.’”
Cannon Ivers, director at LDA Design and lead designer for Strand Aldwych said: “The work carried out in Strand Aldwych is a bold reclaiming of a heavily congested road to create wonderful new civic space in a historic part of London.
“It’s also a rescue mission, saving Grade 1* St Mary Le Strand Church from its role as a glorified traffic island, and it makes Aldwych slower, much safer, and more pleasant.
“Strand has long been a place to hurry through rather than linger, with pedestrians pinned to narrow pavements. The volume of traffic and parked buses made cycling extremely challenging too. Now, with a significant stretch of Strand pedestrianised, visitors will be able to get a far stronger sense of the leading cultural and educational institutions based here.
“There’s opportunity for these institutions to interact and work together in public with Strand Aldwych becoming a distinctive destination in its own right, a place where art is made not just displayed, where performances are rehearsed and performed outdoors and where knowledge takes its place in a democratically shared space.”
For the launch, a major new artwork, The VoiceLine, designed by Somerset House Studios resident artist Nick Ryan, will be unveiled.
This innovative centrepiece installation, integrating soundclips from the BBC archives, will mark the broadcaster’s 100th anniversary.
Nick Ryan said: “Over the next 100 years the sound of cities will change beyond recognition and perhaps for the first time we are able to choose how our public spaces should sound.
“The VoiceLine installation and its novel sound technologies enable us to transform a thoroughfare (that for the last 300 hundred years has been known only for the disruptive sound of vehicles) into a continuously evolving auditory world with immersive sounds of voices nature and music.
“I hope the unique sound instrument I’ve created will identify Strand once again as an iconic destination for listening. The VoiceLine celebrates the histories of radio and listening that began on Strand 100 years ago and changed the world.”
Transport for London has redirected the bus routes that previously went through the Strand. Please see the updated bus timetables below.