The Shoal is a public realm intervention, which aims to improve the urban continuity and legibility of the existing 1970’s Stratford Centre. In the 70’s, the Stratford Centre was created with a positive frontage to the existing high street to it’s south. With the introduction of the Stratford bus interchange, and later, the refurbishment of Stratford Station to the north, the ‘back’ of the centre, with its delivery bays and car parking ramps, became much more visibly public. Recently, the Olympic Park and the Westfield Centre entrances have been established to the north meaning that the ‘back’ has very much become the front: the entrance to Stratford.
In 2009 a competition was established by London Borough of Newham to suggest a solution to this complex urban problem, which was won by Studio Egret West.
A series of curvaceous and branch-like steel ‘trees’ are arranged with a trellis like array of support points. On these are fixed giant leaf shapes of titanium that, like the leaves on a tree, move and respond to the wind, glistening as they gently move in the breeze. Early on, an option to intensively plant mature trees around the sites edge was investigated, but was not pursued due to the myriad of vital services running beneath the existing pavement.
The surface of giant ‘leaves’ mimics the scale and rhythm of the existing trees and re-establishes the urban continuity of the site. They rise and deform, to mark and celebrate the entrance to the Stratford Centre and continue on, beyond, to the old high street. They are an indicator that Stratford is not just the home of the Olympics and has a much broader offer.
The leaves also provide a screen for the assortment of Stratford Centre buildings behind. Rather than hiding this elevation behind, the leaves act to enliven it, divert attention from it and playfully raise the spirits of its onlookers, rising and falling with the choreographic elegance of a shoal of fish.
The Stratford Centre has now started a process of reinvention and transformation, and will radically change over the coming 30 years. The Shoal allows the emerging plans for Stratford to take shape with a new titanium veil in the foreground, like a grandiose shimmering palisade, the Shoal plays a positive role in anchoring this place as it re-emerges confidently after the Olympics.