The Strand – an iconic street which lends its name to King’s College London’s oldest campus – is undergoing radical changes as it transitions from thoroughfare to our city’s newest pedestrianised space.
What just a few months ago was one of the busiest streets in the capital now hosts food stands, Astroturf-covered green spaces, and a Vans-themed skate park. For many returning to King’s after over a year away, the sight of this transformation is equal parts shocking and refreshing; and these are only the first steps of many.
The City of Westminster’s “Strand Aldwych” project has been in the works since 2016, but is a vision for the area’s future that almost no King’s students were aware of until the road was shut and construction began in late August 2021. Scheduled for approximate completion in 2025, the project will involve numerous iterations, curating a space suitable for allÂ its visitors – including thousands of King’s students who will have a brand new campus space to enjoy. To learn more,Â RoarÂ sat down with Alison Duthie, Director of Culture and Programming for Aldwych Strand. From the start, she how the project has to potential to fundamentally alter students’ on-campus experience:
“The vision is very much around a cultural and learning space, and it’s a space which really brings the university to life within the public space and breaks down the walls of the university. But even before any of that happens, I think what will happen is it’s just going to be transformational for students, like completely change their experience of the campus. […] This will really unite the two sides of the Strand, so bringing the Strand building together with Bush House and providing some wonderful spaces that students can just simply use and be in and relax and have lunch and not have to worry about dashing across the road and, you know, buses and trucks and things thundering past.
“But also in health terms, just air quality, environment, biodiversity, all of those things. So the Sustainability Team at Kings, which is very much made up of students, is working as part of the project and really influencing elements of the design. There are lots of ideas around a community garden and how that could be developed over the next year to be somewhere on the Strand campus.”
While the Aldwych semi-circle around Bush House is due for full pedestrianisation by late 2022, the road snaking around St Mary le Strand will exist as a so-called “meanwhile space” until at least three years later. This decision was taken to allow the Strand’s pedestrians to influence the space’s final configuration as much as possible; an element of the project which, according to Ms Duthie, students will be integral in: “I see it as an opportunity for students to play a part in developing content for the space. I really believe in having an interesting pop-up learning/research space. […]Â King’s will look at some sort of internal way of communication, because obviously it’s so big we want to have all of those conversations.”
As Ms Duthie toldÂ Roar,Â the first stage of this involves a King’s-led research project called Renaissance Skin, headed up by Professor Evelyn Welch. Student societies such as Dance Soc, Running Amock, and the KCL Brass Band have also been invited to perform in the space on September 21 and 22, bringing the atmosphere of campus out onto the streets.
These performances form only the tip of the iceberg for Strand Aldwych’s future plans. A blank canvas requires artists, and four have been brought on to help design this new space: Nick Ryan, a sound artist who seeks to “install a playable sound piece within the space that would be embedded in the ground”, allowing creatives and passersby alike to interact with physical sound; Emma Smith, whose work will explore the Strand’s history back to “prehistoric times”; Matthew Rosier, whose three-dimensional projections of notable figures around the Strand will adorn the plinths beside St Mary le Strand, and could serve to champion anyone from King’s students to local shop workers who hold up the community; and lastly, Something and Son, an artistic collective specialising in “curated structures” which aims to create a Speakers’ Corner-esque venue for the area.
The Aldwych Strand project is a gargantuan undertaking, but one which Ms Duthie sees as synergistic with the goals of our university: “I think that connection between research, learning a public space is really key to it.” From scientifically beneficial endeavours such as the installation of air/noise/particular pollution monitors, to smaller things like the project’s commitment to accessibility, Strand Aldwych promises to be a space designed with holistic betterment in mind – not just of the street we walk every day, but of those who walk it too.