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This competition could create homeless-friendly architecture of the future

A month on from the Bournemouth row, the London Festival of Architecture is calling out for benches to enhance London’s financial district

February’s Bournemouth bench row inspired artists and activists alike to stand up against measures taken by local councils to prevent rough sleepers from sleeping on town benches.

Rapper Professor Green attempted to dismantle the bars that physically prevented homeless people from sleeping on benches installed in the town, while artist Stuart Semple successfully lobbied Bournemouth Borough Council to remove them completely.

Now, architects have the chance to transform and influence the future of public seating in The London Festival of Architecture and the City of London Corporation’s City Benches competition, where a call to design a series of one-off public benches has gone out.

The winner will see their seating ideas installed in June 2018 with the goal of enlivening the Eastern Cluster and Bank area in the English capital’s financial district. The flourishing area has seen an influx of developments and new towers emerge in recent years, increasing the need for more seating to accommodate the increasing numbers of people and enhance the urban environment.

But crucially, the contest represents a chance to move away from the anti-homeless designs visible most recently in Bournemouth and in London itself, where the notorious ‘Camden bench’ was introduced in 2012. The concrete eyesore, which was designed to block sleeping, littering, skateboarding, graffiti and theft, came under fire for further excluding marginalised groups from society.

Architecture and design students, recent graduates and emerging practices from across London will have the chance to consign these designs to the past with the competition by submitting proposals by midday on April 19.

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A judging panel, including Greater London Authority senior project officer Pooja Agrawal, Make Architects partner Katy Ghahremani, assistant director at City Public Realm Simon Glynn and Wallpaper magazine’s Ellie Stathaki, will then cast their eye over the proposals to determine the winner.

The bench will stand for three months with a budget of £800 in a bid to offer a low-cost design solution as well as enabling positive growth, enriching the sense of place and creating a world-class destination.

However, the winning effort must also “be designed to prevent use or damage by skateboarders”, according to the design brief.

It is not the first time that the festival has held a City Benches project – architect George King’s Zombie Bench was lauded back in 2012 and went on to stand at London Pleasure Gardens.

London Festival of Architecture director Tamsie Thomson, who is also on the panel, said: “City Benches is a fantastic project that will not only enhance one of the city’s most architecturally exciting districts, but will help the London Festival of Architecture showcase the capital’s brilliant emerging architecture and design talent.

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