What do you think of when someone mentions the Old Street Roundabout? The hustle and bustle of cars, buses, bikes and people? The noise, and the energy? The fact that you may take your life in your hands if you refuse to use the subway but chance your luck crossing the road?
For us, the Roundabout is one of most rooted examples of modern London. It’s both loved, and yet unloved at the same time.
So the announcement recently that the roundabout was to be given a makeover, and not a superficial lick of paint, but a £1m transformation to create ‘a hub for digital innovation’ was an irresistible opportunity. This digital transformation would go hand in hand with the physical infrastructure changes planned, raising the place of cyclists, pedestrians and public transport. The Roundabout was suddenly to take the limelight. It was to be celebrated.
We teamed up with our good friends at architect practice Shed KM and BCA Landscape to explore the role of innovation and technology. For us, it was the perfect brief. It gave us the opportunity to capitalise on our other work in this field - from our immersive 3D Paper World for Greenwich Peninsula, to our Augmented Reality Map for Harrow, to our shortlisted bid for the international Playable City scheme.
The Old Street Roundabout has a special place for us. It’s our station to work. We’ve seen it evolve in recent years, along with the places around it. And of course, it’s at the crossroads of art, design and architecture, the City and technology and that diverse intersection became one of the key inspirations for us. That, alongside our passion to connect people, and in this case that meant connecting those underground with those above.
Our stance was clear. This was an unwelcoming environment where commuters cut through to go elsewhere, generally with haste. And yet with various cafes popping up around it - and within it - it feels like a place crying out to be a destination. We also felt that to deny it’s urban nature, it’s busy energy would be less than authentic.
This was not about turning the Roundabout into a tranquil garden haven in the middle of one of the city’s busiest crossroads. Our ideas would build on what makes the Roundabout community and building on that community, which led to our ideas around a Digital Playground, a concept that meant we were one of the longlist of 39 submissions that featured everyone from Google to Zaha Hadid, AHMM to Hawkins/Brown, GRID and Mae, all exhibited at the White Collar Factory until earlier this month.
Our concept came to life in various ways, all developed to reinforce our view of the Old Street Roundabout. It was about building and evolving. It would transform the place but it would be real and remain in touch with what we know, while capitalising on that enviable position as a thriving hub of urban life.
The Data Vent celebrates the urban landscape, rather than hiding it, pulling the latest, realtime underground data and sharing that with passersby, creating a connection which could easily be used as a way of communicating details to those above, even educating them on the sheer volume, the datashifts, from commuters and usage to climate and peak points. The data connector!
At Uniform we’ve long celebrated the principle of the non tech! This non digital device allows people to look into the underground and see what’s going on below. This will create a surprising view for both those on ground level and underground. When underground people will be able to look up and see reflections of the ground level and vice versa. The four periscopes will face north, east, south and west to give four unique views of the city.
The Organic LED is a ground level screen that encourages people to stand, and wave their bodies, making pixelated figures that commuters downstairs can see. Any movement by the passerby above is mirrored on a the screen for the lucky viewers to see as they rush to their train. Hopefully stopping them in their tracks, putting a smile on their face and stimulating a moment of joy. It might even change their view of the Roundabout!
The Tile Art wall is a non digital intervention. Visitors to the roundabout can spin round the non-digital pixels (based on that ubiquitous Old St tile) to create art or leave messages for passersby or friends. This simple interactive element will allow visitors to feel like they own the space. It is a space designed for them to own.
“People powered” is the aim of Islington Council. Hopefully you’ll agree we’ve taken the first steps to make that happen.