Regenerating the Elephant

We were so lucky with the weather for the Elephant and Castle walk yesterday. And I was lucky to have such a nice group of people for the walk. Thanks everyone who came along.
It’ll be on again later in the year, see for details.
As some of you know, the Elephant is undergoing regeneration. It is actually the biggest urban regeneration project ever in Europe. Initially Norman Foster was involved. There were plans for low rise terraces, art galleries, piazzas (I call them squares, but there you go), an amphitheatre. All the pictures of the plans showed people sitting outside in sunny weather. Winter was to be banished from the Elephant and Castle for ever. Then the recession struck, and the budget was scaled dowm. The big name architects who promised high quality, imaginative buildings dropped out of sight. Instead we got Strata, aka the Electric Razor, which opened in April 2010 and received the Carbuncle Award later that year.

Just up the road the Shard was built.

A new children’s playground opened in St Mary’s Churchyard, formerly a feral spot where you would find people sleeping off the previous night’s excesses. Suddenly the regeneration looked brighter. It’s been the small projects that have made the difference; things that have passed almost unnoticed.
The Siobhan Davies Dance Studios is an architectural delight and a superb local resource. The London South Bank University opened first a small theatre and now an art gallery, both on Borough Road.
But the Ministry of Sound, the globally celebrated nightclub that came to the Elephant before anyone was talking about regeneration is threatened.
Ministry of Sound
Ministry of Sound
Across the street, Eileen House, an empty office block, may be redeveloped as flats. Most residents would be unlikely to welcome a nightclub on the doorstep.
The final decision rests with BoJo, but some people have decided to take direct action and have occupied the building.
Budgets being scaled back are not new at the Elephant.
George Dance wanted to create an impressive gateway to the area; South London’s answer to Bath; in the 1950s the aspiration was to create a Piccadilly Circus in south London. Neither of those projects achieved their aims, mostly because of a lack of money available resulted in compromise solutions that regenerated without inspiring. Though to be fair on Dance, the work of his that survives is still, in my opinion, some of the most pleasing of the Elephant’s buildings. Strangely, restoring those buildings doesn’t seem to feature in the regeneration plans. I’d be surprised if BoJo even knows they are there.
There’s a lot to hope for in regenerating the Elephant; a lot we could gain that would please people who live in and around the area. But it isn’t an easy task, and I do hope, for the sake of all of us, that in the end, we get it right.

5 thoughts on “Regenerating the Elephant

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  1. Map dork here. Where exactly would you place the Shard? Frankly most tourist maps are afraid of South London so my geography is limited. Same for the Strata – on your Walworth walk it seemed to be right in our very cold faces. Perhaps it is just omnipresent.


    1. Morning Cathy. Nice to hear from you. I guess Dulwich is the exception for tourists. The Shard is at London Bridge, right by the overground station of the river. Strata is a mile further south at the Elephant. I like the way you call it omnipresent; I agree. If I had £5 fr every person who has pointed at it from elsewhere in London, especially the City, and asked where it is, my income would be considerably boosted.


  2. Hi Isobel. I volunteer for CoolTan Arts, a local charity for people with mental health problems, in the Elephant and Castle area, and we lead and organise free walks once a month. Our next one is about “revolutionary women”, to celebrate International Women’s Day, and I was wandering if I could pick your brains about famous local women from the past we could talk about during the walk? I know you have your own walk on a similar theme, which I’ll definitely go on this summer.
    All the best, Tim.


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