White Horse Square

designed by /

Location: UK / Type: Community Participation / Squares and Plazas / Built: 2020 /
Show on Google Maps / Published on April 20, 2024

In 2018, following an invited competition, DSDHA were commissioned by residential developer Quintain to carry out the substantial remodelling of White Horse Square — a key gateway connecting the new Wembley Park masterplan to Wembley Stadium Station to the south and to the existing neighbourhoods beyond.

White Horse Square was a poorly functioning public space, typically experienced through extremes; either crowded or empty. Windswept, utilitarian and sparsely populated on an ordinary day, or armed with temporary barriers and packed with up to 12,000 people per hour in conjunction with a sporting or musical event at one of the major venues nearby — such as the world-famous Wembley Stadium or the iconic Wembley Arena.

Building on this fluctuating character, DSDHA’s new scheme mitigates the logistical challenges of setting-up/dismantling the square in preparation for an event, while also creating a more welcoming and exciting environment for White Horse Square’s intermittent crowds, its new residents and, crucially, Wembley’s wider community beyond the perimeter of the masterplan.

To date the first phase of the scheme has already been delivered This has seen the introduction of two large, sculptural red trusses at the centre of the square, providing integrated solutions to wayfinding and crowd control as well as clearly identifying three distinct areas within the plan: a central and clearly legible route linking Wembley Stadium Station to the stadium and two green spaces on either side, functioning as buffers to the residential buildings. These spaces include large biodiverse planting beds with low maintenance, pollinator-friendly species that provide an urban oasis for the surrounding residents. The first green space — a flowering perennial garden with generous seating — has already been delivered, while the second — a ‘playable landscape’ designed in collaboration with local groups — awaits construction as part of the scheme’s second phase.

The processes undertaken at White Horse Square looks to DSDA’s guide of Spatial Justice where local residents and users are also the collaborators of the framework:

1. Leveraging existing networks:

Julia King launched an open-call to previous participants of the ‘Seen and Heard’ initiative, as well as local schools, to put together a team of 5 paid collaborators between the ages of 15-18 to participate in the design of the final part of White Horse Square.

2. Strategic briefing:

The process involved strategic briefing to cover scope and constraints of the project, precedent studies of public spaces around the world, mapping and visioning, and design development with DSDHA. These processes were supported by online and physical workshops, including a workshop on ‘public space’ where Julia provided an engaging seminar on the contradictions and possibilities of the design and management of public spaces in the UK context.

3. Experience-based design:

Participants, who knew the area intimately, articulated their experiences of different public spaces in Brent, and the nuanced observations about how certain behaviours were encouraged or deterred. Equipped with an understanding of the covert or more explicit tensions between use and management and the needs of different user groups, the participants shared their desires and aspirations for White Horse Square, from which key themes – ‘shelter’, ‘escape’, ‘play’ & ‘multipurpose’ – were identified for the entire design team within a wider aspiration to create ‘judgement free space’. The articulation of this aspiration by the young people created a prism through which design decisions could be tested – from the layout and the scale of the space down to the colours of the furniture.

4. Enacting proposals

The designs that emerged from these collective conversations were then tested on site via a series of temporary enactments and taping exercises that played with dimensions and orientation, which identified different opportunities for conviviality and intimacy. 

5. Long-term impact:

The dialogue and findings from workshops and site visits fed back into the detailed design of the space, which DSDHA translated and synthesised into a coherent scheme. The scheme is due to be completed later in 2023, but in the meantime, the co-design process has transformed the way participants and their social networks see and experience Wembley, their sense of belonging to a space that they have helped shape, and their sense of empowerment to both critique and enjoy the spaces they inhabit.

Project Data

Urban Designer and Landscape Architect: DSDHA

Other designers involved in the design of landscape:

Project Manager: WildInput Consultancy
Structural Engineer: Price & Myers
Lighting Consultants: Speirs + Major
Cost Consultants: Mark Izzard Cost Consultancy
Civils & Infrastructure Consultant: BuroHappold Engineering
Crowd Management Consultant: Movement Strategies
Planning Consultant: WYG
Principal Designer: PRP
Contractor: Careys

Project location: Wembley, UK

Year completed: 2020. Phase II undergoing

Photo credits: Dennis Gilbert, DSDHA, Julia King

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