The Problem

Strand (or Strond, meaning edge of river) is an important London east/west route, and has been since AD190. It is a key processional route between Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s. Completed in 1905, Aldwych is a Parisian-style boulevard. Combined, they formed a congested one-way gyratory, which turned one of London’s finest 18th century churches, Grade 1* St Mary le Strand church, into ‘St Mary in the Way’. 

Strand Aldwych is lined with exceptional buildings and institutions, many with the highest heritage protection, including Somerset House, Courtauld Gallery, Bush House, King’s College and LSE. However, Strand, south of Aldwych, has long been hard to love, a non-place with degraded public realm. The area is used by 14 million people a year, but heavy traffic meant Strand was polluted and hostile for pedestrians and cyclists. Businesses struggled. Aldwych was wide, fast and dangerous to cross. 

The pandemic also hit hard with people slow to return. For workers, students and visitors, there was nowhere to sit or eat outdoors. 

The Solution 

Altering traffic flow was key to creating a unique new civic space. In 2021, traffic on Strand from Waterloo Bridge to St Clement Danes was removed. Hush fell. Aldwych was made two-way, slowing traffic and making the street safer. Five new signalised pedestrian crossings were installed on desire lines. 

Seventy stakeholders worked alongside designers to co-create and test ideas for Strand. A summertime pop-up skatepark and outdoor dining allowed people to experience change. Initial public consultation ran for six weeks with six exhibitions, plus on-street engagement and workshops. An online survey received 1500 responses. The public wanted greening, better air quality and innovative design.

Strand reopened in December with new trees, lawns and views, communal dining, biodiverse planting, and rain gardens. Now alliums are in bloom, and people sit chatting, snacking, reading. For the first time, the street connects to the life going on around it. 

St Mary le Strand, once isolated between lanes of traffic, is now a restful city sanctuary. The garden in front of St Clement Danes church features elegant Portland Stone benches which reflect the church’s bomb-damage history. Flooring inside the church is inspiration for the paving.

The design will respond to developing stakeholder management strategies. As a result, a meanwhile surface stretches along Strand.

Reimagining Stand Aldwych points to a greener, cleaner, healthier city and future. The project is of national and international significance. 

Reaching consensus on reconfiguring historic city streets is challenging. For Strand Aldwych, a unique collaboration of designers, councillors, business development and institutions has created an exceptional civic space. It has taken just eight years, fast for changes of this significance and scale. It shows what is possible if the will is there. 

The scheme has been welcomed. Marcus Binney, SAVE Britain’s Heritage, sees Strand as “the best and most enlightened example of good town planning since the creation of Covent Garden Piazza in the 1970s.” A journalist described it as the best thing to happen to London in decades. 

Social, environmental, spatial 

The design ensures London’s centre is for all, not the few, improving the everyday for a community of students, academics, visitors, office workers, residents, and businesses. It means there is inclusive, high-quality public realm where there was none. Increased dwell time is supporting businesses. Canon Babington of St Mary le Strand has reported a spike in visitors and has secured heritage funding. 

Car free, Strand is now a cultural and learning destination supporting cross-pollination of ideas between influential institutions. Fifty-seven individually coloured seats define a generous performance space. The street will host art installations, festivals, and events with stakeholder management. The first installation marked the centenary of the first BBC broadcast from Bush House. Flexibility in design leaves space for the unknown. 

Improved pedestrian and cycling links open up the area. Footways are wider along adjacent roads and street clutter reduced. 

The design brings nature in, allowing for better management of heavy rainfall and balance between hard and soft spaces. There are 41 new trees 1,025 shrubs, 8,366 herbaceous plants, 37,395 bulbs, 244 ferns, 3,739 grasses and 169 metres of turf. Local stakeholders will lead further greening opportunities. 

Sitting within a GLA-designated Air Quality Focus Area means pollution has been monitored here since 2015, with the London Air Quality Network providing ratified public data. This shows the dramatic impact the design has already had on air quality, with a reduction in NO2 of 56%, from 76mgm3 in 2019 to 34mgm3 in 2022, well below the 40 mgm3 target. Hourly pollution levels show a significant decrease, including at peak times. A stakeholder group will continue monitoring air quality.

Architecture offices involved in the design:

LDA Design, Landscape Architect and Lead Designer

Location: Strand Aldwych, London WC2R 1DH 

Design year: 2019-2021

Year Completed: 2022


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