The competition Transforming South Kensington, organised by the Exhibition Road Cultural Group in conjunction with the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, was open to teams from the Royal College of Art (RCA), Imperial College and the Royal College of Music.
Groups from the colleges pitched alternative ideas to a jury on how the underground tunnel leading to South Kensington’s museums could be used.
The judging panel selected three winning groups of the original 11 – The Secret Guide to Albertopolis, Connection and The Complete History of the Universe. Each team was awarded a £2000 prize fund by the 1851 Commission. Two other schemes, Golden Runway and Parallel Calm, were also commended.
Elements from all three designs will now be taken onto the next design development stage for consideration as part of Transport for London’s station improvement plan for South Kensington.
“The project is harnessing intellectual power to create an inventive new scheme,” says Bernard Taylor, Chairman of the 1851 Commission. “The tunnel is currently not very inspiring, and this is updating it.”
The Secret Guide to Albertopolis was designed by a group of seven RCA architecture students, and features coloured tile patterns that draw inspiration from the London Underground. “For instance, the colours change at entrance and exit points,” says Cecily Chua, 26-year-old member of the design team. “They can be used as a way-finding tool.”
Alongside this, the group has pitched to use the tunnel space for various non-disruptive temporary installations at night time such as lectures, life drawing classes, pop out bars and skittles tournaments, which would be concealed when not in use. “It’s the untapped potential of using the tunnel in hours when it would usually be closed, while also improving the tunnel in the daytime with life and colour,” Chua says.
Connection, designed by seven RCA interior design students, looks at creating a more pleasant journey experience with easier way finding by injecting more light into the tunnel through the ceiling, the group say. “We want to make the environment nicer,” says Zara Ashby, 25-year-old member of the design team. “The tunnel has a habit of making users feel quite lost. We want to allow people to flow better through reorientation, and by letting more light in due to the porous nature of the tunnel.
The Complete History of the Universe was created by seven RCA architecture students and includes a wooden handrail marked with key historical events – this symbolises a conceptual timeline, representing misconceived ideas and historical facts that have been proven false. “We wanted to create something that made people think, rather than just pragmatic intervention,” says Matty Mastrandrea, 25-year-old group member. “It isn’t too didactic and dry, but brings the tunnel to life with a sense of fun and learning,” says fellow member 25-year-old Tom Selby.
The judging panel was composed of nine people and included Professor Alex de Rijke, dean of the RCA School of Architecture, Chris Cotton, CEO of the Royal Albert Hall and Eleanor Pinfield, head of art on the underground, Transport for London. Sir Christopher Frayling, 1851 Royal Commissioner and former RCA rector, was the chair.
“The three winners had such conceptual clarity, and ability to boil their ideas down,” says de Rijke. “It’s not just about having the strongest idea, but also the skill in editing and presenting it.”
An exhibition of the original 11 proposed schemes was opened by 1851 Royal Commission chairman Bernard Taylor, and will be open to the public until 19 December at the Henry Moore Studio, Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2EU.