Camille Walala imagines a “plant-filled and people-focused” Oxford Street

Inspired by lockdown’s empty streets, the French designer has reimagined the central London location as a nature-enriched place to meet and rest.

Graphic designer Camille Walala has revealed a “radical reimagining” of Oxford Street, showing the popular London destination as a pedestrianised, verdant meeting place.

Known for her colourful and playful installations, the French designer has lived in London for 23 years. She has worked with product visualisation studio Omni Visual on the images.

The project was inspired by Walala’s experience of the capital during lockdown with her partner and creative producer Julia Jomaa.

While cycling through the empty streets of central London, the designer says she was “struck by the silence of the streets, the sense of peace that had descended on London in the absence of the traffic”.

“A better, brighter city”

“We decided to devote some of our time in lockdown to this speculative project – a visualisation of a better, brighter city,” Walala adds.

Calling the “plant-filled and people-focused” project a “what-if portrait of the city of tomorrow”, Walala imagines the central retail location as a greener, car-free environment.

Inspired by the agora (public square) in ancient Greece, the concepts show colourful multi-functional spaces where people can meet, rest and socialise.

Walala’s recognisable geometric patterns have been applied to the street furniture for people as well as areas for plants to grow. One design shows how water could also be implemented into the street system.

As well as aiming to create a more environmentally-friendly area, Walala says that these designs would be be better for urban dwellers’ mental health.

“When the future is uncertain, strain on mental health is high, and many of us are facing tough challenges in our lives,” she says. “I believe it’s crucial to hang on to what hope we can.”

“Emotionally enriching” and “practically functional”

While these designs are concepts, Walala converted the nearby South Molton Street into a “Walala Lounge” with her street furniture in 2019. This year, a “Walala Parade” was unveiled in East London where a parade of shops in Leyton was transformed by the designer.

These projects have had a “dramatic positive effect on the urban landscape”, she says. “I am convinced that, together, we can do much more like this, and make our cities wonderful, engaging places that are as emotionally enriching as they are practically functional,” Walala adds.

An Augmented Reality app has also been released which allows people to view the images using their phones. The buildings and surrounding of Oxford Street are displayed in a 3D setting and there is a scaling device that allows people to see Walala’s designs in their own homes.

Can Westminster City Council reignite Oxford Street through design?

Earlier this year, Westminster City Council appointed urban design consultancy Publica as “design guardian” of Oxford Street.

The appointment was part of a £235 million plan to strengthen the area, which was organised by Publica in consultation with local stakeholders.

The plan identifies several objectives for the project, including the implementation of “smart city” technology.

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  • Neil Littman November 24, 2020 at 9:14 am

    I was a bit puzzled by this article when public realm consultants Publica have already been given the green light to implement a scheme along the whole length of Oxford Street with a budge of £235m. (as you stated at the end of the article) This will also link with other projects such as the ones being devised by Grosvenor Estates. I was also intrigued by the lack of any buses or other traffic in the visuals when Westminster Council have already rejected all plans for a traffic free environment. However, Oxford Street is already virtually car-free. More concerning is the future of the retailers in the area. Several department stores are already closed and the area only survives on the spending input from shoppers. I don’t dispute the need to make the environment more pleasant. Just look at the disruption already caused by the building of Crossrail near Bond Street. I was in the area a few weeks ago just before the second lockdown and there was an obvious sense of relief that people could return to the area but redesigning the streetscape will not make any difference if visitors are kept away.

  • Carl St. James November 24, 2020 at 10:11 am

    If the aim of city planners is to try to fight Amazon and other online retailers with the high street then they have already lost. What we need are ideas like this where we repurpose our city centres, not claw back a past long gone.

    Full pedestrianisation combined with a huge reforesting of our high streets could pave the way for our inner cities to become more like country parks. With open spaces for children to play, families will come back. Cultural events could bring in an older crown who would lap up pop-up eateries and street food places. Sheffield’s Tramlines inner city festival should be the template for other public events.

    Moving drinking establishments back to the suburbs helps regenerate those areas by providing jobs and entertainment but also compartmentalises social disorder making it easier for enforcement to deal with. If WFH is now the rule rather than the exception then a clever business owner might also relocate to the suburbs. Home Offices still enjoy coffee and artisan pastries.

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