The rainy British summer usually means that the country lags behind its European counterparts when it comes to al fresco living, dining and working. Last year’s Covid-19 restrictions has inspired architects and designers to adjust their attitude to outdoors with innovative results.
By Helen Parton
The Social Soho project spearheaded by Transit Studio kickstarted the area's outdoor dining.
© Agnese Sanvito
The streets of London’s Soho would usually be thronging with people, drawn to the area because of this neighbourhood’s reputation for restaurants, bars and nightlife. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, it like everywhere else around the world, fell silent. When restrictions allowed reopening of hospitality, architect Ben Masterson-Smith, director with Transit Studio which is based in the area, started ‘Social Soho’, a movement to open up Soho’s hospitality sector safely.
The masterplan pushed traffic to the periphery of the area to free up space, providing socially distant outdoor dining, making use of car parking/loading bays and allowing pedestrians to flow through the streets. With both the council and local landlords on board for 2020, the concept was repeated in April 2021 as lockdown eased and outdoor eating and drinking could take place once again. Other UK cities including Manchester and Birmingham followed suit with temporary road closures and pavement dining licenses.
Birmingham’s Paradise masterplan creates the right infrastructure for a greener, healthier, and more livable city to emerge.
© Glenn Howells Architects
Birmingham is going all out for al fresco if the Paradise Masterplan is anything to go by. Glenn Howells Architects started working on this scheme in the civil heart of the city in 2008. The newly reopened Chamberlain Square provides the perfect backdrop for Birmingham’s collection of prestigious 19th century Listed cultural buildings, including the Town Hall and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Now local office workers and visitors can also soak up the atmosphere of the contemporary new civic square, a place that’s attracting upmarket restaurant brands to complete the feeling of being an European metropolis.
The penthouse duplex of Landmark Place creates a riverside urban oasis.
© Gareth Gardner
Connection with the urban fabric is one of the main rationales with the Landmark Place duplex development by Goddard Littlefair. Spread over the building’s 10th and 11th floors, it has a terrace with three seating areas, including a dining set up, plus enviable views of the river Thames and landmarks including the iconic Tower Bridge which is designed for year round use.
London’s retail sector is also set to be given a boost thanks to better outdoor space planning with news that RIBA is running a design competition for Westminster Council and the Crown Estate, which will see London’s shopping mecca Oxford Circus transformed into two pedestrianised piazzas and also introducing seating, cycle parking and pocket parks in the area. As well as better access to and from the Tube, the pedestrianisation will also improve air quality.
The Roots in the Sky project by developer Fabrix includes facilities such as a community barn.
Another development that takes advantage of the great outdoors is Roots in the Sky. Planned for across the river in Southwark it is developed by Fabrix, which is billed as London’s first urban forest. This scheme will feature 385,000 sq.ft of contemporary and sustainable office, commercial and community space plus 1.1 acres of roof gardens.
Roots in the Sky will have strong emphasis on local community involvement. Nearly two thirds of the rooftop will be accessible by the public with other amenities including a community barn, allotment garden and seed bank.
While the UK might be slightly late to the party when it comes to outdoor living, judging by these schemes its al fresco future is assured.