OSA Review: Weston Williamson + Partners, OxArch Reconstruction Lecture

Weston Williamson and Partners is an architectural firm which is usually associated with large infrastructure projects, but Nick McGough’s lecture focused on their research and development side of the practice. The IF_Lab asks questions of what architecture can be to push the practice further.

Their Future Retail Destinations project, for the Crown Estate in partnership with the Architects Journal, looked at the potential of out of town retail parks as shopping moves online. The Crown Estate owns several retail parks, and so are concerned about the future of these spaces. Nick explained that these spaces are about convenience rather than experience, but they now cannot compete with the convenience of the internet. The only thing that the real world can provide that the online cannot is experience, and it was this aspect that their design attempted to provide by giving context to an originally bland design, making the retail park a place rather than just a space. Weston Williamson and Partners proposed to clash together retail and leisure, and to focus on production rather than consumption.

Another interesting project that Nick mentioned was the Waterloo International Terminal. Weston Williamson and Partners redesigned the terminal to maximise revenue and customer experience, but when the terminal opened, the platforms opened but the retail space did not, leaving travellers to walk through corridors of boarded up shops. Traditional ways to deal with this are to add static graphics to the hoarding, or to pull back the hoarding to allow for narrow shops and kiosks. However, Weston Williamson and Partners took the opportunity to challenge their practice, developing an AR shopping experience with venue tie-ins, online shopping, and local exchange platforms.

Paddington Crossrail Station has also been designed by the practice. They aimed to use intuitive design and wayfinding, guiding people through the station with light. The existing building was Grade I Listed, so the practice had to work with Historic England while designing the glass canopy for natural light. Nick pointed out that projects like this should last for hundreds of years, and so they must contribute to the cityscape.

Nick left us with the message that, as architects, it is our responsibility to think bigger than our brief because the power is in our hands to make change, not only to the locality but to architectural best practice.

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