Peveril Gardens and Studios is a former parking structure reimagined as a rooftop garden. Under the creative direction of Sanchez Benton architects working in close collaboration the council, residents, and specialist consultants, the space has become a new home for contemporary art and community outreach.
In 2016, Southwark Council’s Regeneration Team found themselves with a small amount of funding to put towards the activation of the high street along Tower Bridge Road in Southwark.
The street had recently benefited from Transport for London’s (TfL) public realm improvements, and businesses seemed to be thriving. Southwark Council thought about further improving the street with a lighting or landscaping scheme, or perhaps by commissioning a mural. Eventually, public art curator Aldo Rinaldi came on board, and soon the level of ambition for the project was raised considerably. Diverging from a traditional procurement approach, the team instead wrote an open brief prepared in the style of a public art commission.
By the new year, Southwark Council had received three very different concept designs, submitted by artist/architect teams from the UK, Brazil, and Qatar. The proposal that unanimously won hearts and minds was the one from London-based Sanchez Benton architects in association with Brussels-based Mexican artist Gabriel Kuri.
Remembering the Bricklayers Arms junction as a stopping point for Canterbury pilgrims, traders, and coachmen, the creative team resurrected the role of the site as a place of confluence, migration, and settling. Crucially, they suggested a series of bold and simple moves to open up a forgotten space in the shape of a 1960s podium structure, by creating a raised garden and activating the street level.
This vision became the new brief.
From parking structure to rooftop park
Though the project budget was relatively small, the imaginative team succeeded in transforming the dark, damp undercroft into a light-filled sculpture of a building, topped with a vivid, orange-walled oasis. The rooftop planting scheme was brought to life by award-winning horticulturalist Nigel Dunnett, who was able to create a lush environment while keeping in mind maintenance constraints.
At street level, twelve former garages were reshaped into a multitude of new functions: office spaces, five affordable artist studios, a residency space for visiting artists, an event space, and a café and bookshop. There was even space for integrating a discrete bin store.
The realisation of the project was further helped along when additional funds arrived from the Mayor’s Good Growth Fund.
Running a space for local outreach
To find an operator of the new Peveril Gardens and Studios, Southwark Council issued a call for proposals from organisations with a genuine interest in high street regeneration and local outreach. In addition to running the space as a cultural destination, the operator would also be expected to deliver a programme of community outreach, ensuring engagement with diverse communities and residents from adjacent estates.
Forma Arts and Media were ultimately successful in securing the 10-year lease on the space, which came together with a detailed service-level agreement setting out the Council’s expectations.
Forma’s opening and running of Peveril Gardens and Studios was initially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, in June 2021, they managed to host a festive residents’ launch party in the garden. Since then, the vibrant public programme has gained further momentum, and the positive impact of the regeneration scheme continues to spread.
Valuing arts and culture
It is almost certain that the economic, social, and cultural impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. In this challenging climate, it is vital that capital projects that support arts, culture, and community, such as Peveril Gardens and Studios, are enabled as far as possible.
With a base in this building and space, Southwark Council hopes that Forma will be able to build their own capacity and financial resilience, so they may in turn develop a strong community engagement programme, deliver cultural value, and expand the public offer.
- Now, more than ever, the face of the high street is changing, with new, layered uses coming into play. To make the most of these opportunities, asset owners have to be trusting, open, flexible, and enabling. As the landowner and local authority, Southwark Council was focused on the value of adaptive reuse, cultural expression, and community engagement over commercial return.
- Challenge the brief. The circumstances surrounding the Peveril Gardens and Studios project allowed Southwark Council to do things a little differently. By joining forces with colleagues in the GLA’s Arts and Culture Team, the local project team were able to push the boundaries and take a bold stance. The results speak for themselves!
- You can create beauty on a shoestring. Sanchez Benton architects’ dedication to adaptive reuse was truly admirable, with garage doors refashioned into garden gates, refreshed balustrades, and repurposed bricks. Minimal interventions (such as three holes punched into the structure for a stair, a roof-light, and a tree) and Gabriel Kuri’s playful forms resulted in a frugal, yet beautiful and purposeful space.
- Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. The project was a true multi-disciplinary collaboration between Southwark Council, artist Gabriel Kuri, Sanchez Benton Architects, horticulturalist Nigel Dunnett, curator Aldo Rinaldi, local residents, and Forma. These stakeholders shared a vision, and the project evolved along a pathway of mutual trust in each other’s expertise.
- Work with local people. For any property project, it is crucial to understand the needs, fears, wants, barriers, and joys of the local population. Peveril Gardens and Studios was always about reaching out and knitting into the neighbourhood. Even if the project team did not always get it right at first, the right intentions guided their decisions from the outset.
- Project budget: £494,000
- Contract value: £369,000
- Timeline: Autumn 2016 – Autumn 2020 (4 years)
- Rumi Bose, Southwark Council
- Aldo Rinaldi, Public Art Curator
- BRAC (Building Contractor)
- Forma (Operator)
- Gabriel Kuri, Artist
- Local residents of Peveril House, the wider Decima Estate and Tabard Gardens
- Nigel Dunnett, Horticulturalist
- Price & Myers (Structural Engineer)
- Sanchez Benton architects
- Southwark Council