£150m project to pedestrianise Oxford Circus seeks “world-class” designers

The London thoroughfare is to be redesigned with two pedestrian-only piazzas this year in an attempt to rival New York’s Times Square.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is launching a competition to redesign Oxford Circus, following the announcement that the location will become partly pedestrianised.

Every year, Oxford Street attracts millions of visitors from around the world thanks to its shopping and hospitality.

At the area’s centre is Oxford Circus, where busy roads intersect with Underground entrances and flagship stores.

A render of the future pedestrianised space facing west

There is now an “urgent need” to rethink this intersection, says Westminster City Council (WCC) leader Rachel Robathan.

Two piazzas will be installed at the junction later this year, with the aim of creating a destination that rivals New York’s Times Square district, according to the council.

Robathan adds: “These pedestrian-only piazzas at Oxford Circus will not only improve safety, security, accessibility but also create an iconic destination at the heart of London.”

Roads will be closed between Oxford Circus and Great Portland Street to the east, and to John Prince’s Street on the west. Traffic will still be able to pass through between the piazzas from north and south Oxford Street.

As well as tackling issues like pedestrian and traffic congestion, poor air quality and noise, the new design seeks to support local businesses which have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

A render of the redesigned area from above

To oversee the redesign, RIBA plans to launch a competition looking for “world class” design. The competition, which launches in September, will be open to entries from around the world.

While creating a better experience for visitors, the new plans should also consider the people living in and working in the area, according to the council.

Some of the priorities will include creating places to eat, drink and enjoy the centre of the city. The redesigned space should also include additional greenery and seating to “improve the overlook and feel of the area and encourage dwell time,” WCC says.

By reducing traffic, the council hopes that cycling will be encouraged in the area.

A render of the improved access to the Underground stations

The project will also be worked on with Transport for London to improve access to Oxford Circus tube station. The council explains that the project should take advantage of the new central London railway line, Elizabeth Line, which is set to open in 2022.

Work will start later in the year, as part of phased rollout. The piazzas will be implemented in late 2021 while the second stage will start in spring 2022.

The pedestrianisation of Oxford Circus is the latest step in the council’s plans to improve the area. WCC has committed £150m to initiate the various Oxford Street District (OSD) programmes, and is seeking further investment.

Last year, WCC appointed urban design consultancy Publica as the “design guardian” of Oxford Street, as part of a wider strategy update for the area.

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