From the mid-17th to the mid-19th century, crowds of Londoners sought entertainment at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, located on the south bank of the River Thames. The acres of greenery that made up the garden were once the site of numerous whimsical attractions, including tight-rope walkers, concerts, fireworks, and narrow winding walkways perfect for amorous adventures. Today the neighborhood of Vauxhall, located in the heart of Nine Elms, is mostly known for the railway arches that slice across the neighborhood, disconnecting it from the riverside and labeling it as the “missing link” between the New US Embassy Quarter and London’s South Bank.
In an effort to revive and reconnect the historic neighborhood The Royal Institute for British Architects (RIBA) and Vauxhall One, an organization dedicated to making Vauxhall a safer, cleaner, and better place for business, created the Vauxhall Missing Link Competition. They invited registered architects, landscape designers, and urban designers to submit their ideas for “an outstanding new addition to the urban environment.”
The new plans for Vauxhall, which aim to seamlessly merge a vibrant green environment within an urban setting, unmistakably mimic those of the New York City High Line. According to the competition brief, the intention behind the new scheme is to “Reconnect the disjointed parts of the neighborhood, to build a better visual perception of Vauxhall beyond its roundabouts and roads and to create an identifiable pathway and narrative through the area, linking the railway arches, green spaces and public art into a distinctive place once again.”
Erect Architecture and J&L Gibbons won the international competition with their imaginative design titled “The Promenade of Curiosities.” Chris Law, Public Realm and Development Director for Vauxhall One, said in a statement, “Erect/ J&L Gibbons entry was really special. It has so many quirky and innovative features. We really want to make a difference by regenerating Vauxhall through green and sustainable measures and their entry was outstanding.”
Inspired by the historic Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and the New York City High Line, the firm designed a contemporary promenade that will feature a series of permanent and temporary art installations. It incorporates lush rain gardens, which will be equipped with sustainable drainage systems and will feature green pathways lined with curiously pruned trees and paved with different textures, creating a fanciful setting reminiscent of the historic gardens.
The new project is part of a larger masterplan that involves the transformation of the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Area (VNEB). The first phase of development, the Regeneration of the Rail Arches, is already underway. Vauxhall One commissioned a different architect to work on each individual arch so that the end result will be a series of distinct, uniquely designed arches that will no longer barrier the neighborhood from the riverfront, but hopefully create a safe and vivid walkway and bicycle path that will link visitors to it.