Architecture: Wheeling and dealing

The South Bank looks set to become

London's top millenial tourist

attraction, thanks to the architects

and businesses who teamed up to

give it new life.

Millennium Mile is the fancy name for a bit of run-down riverfront called the South Bank on the Thames in London. For years it was known as the rat run, which is how traffic controllers describe drivers' accelerating from the City to the West End.

Now its a scenic route, planned more for pedestrians than drivers. The transformation has made the community who live there, and the firms who employ 40,000 workers in the area, so proud that they are staging an exhibition in the Oxo Tower from 24 August, of scale models, drawings and photographs of the buildings and the bridges in the cultural kilometre. Then you can visit the real thing.

Old favourites like the National Theatre, the Hayward, the Festival Hall and the GLC building - now two hotels and an aquarium - will be revealing their face-lifts for the first time. Proposals that haven't got off the drawing board will be up for discussion, like the Millennium ferris wheel at Southwark, which is being projected as London's top tourist attraction, and the Lido Olympic-sized pool with a glass roof that turns into a dance floor, by architects Lifschutz Davidson (currently seeking a new owner with around pounds 15m to spend).

Bridges naturally loom large. Norman Foster's new Millennium Bridge will link St Paul's to the new Tate at Bankside and Will Alsop's proposed new bridge at Blackfriars, now up for planning, refutes a description by the chairman of English Heritage, Jocelyn Stevens, as "a condom". Just why it isn't can be seen quite clearly from the elegant scale model which shows the interlocking platforms sinuously embracing Blackfriars.

The Oxo tower, with its special arrangement of noughts and crosses that spell out the name of the beef extract that beat the Thirties' ban on riverfront advertising, is a good place to stage this exhibition, which has been put together by various movers and shakers from the business community. With a single stroke, known as the spine route, the length of the Millennium Mile, the South Bank Employers' Group turned an exhaust- fumed, dirty grey and characterless zone into a tourist attraction.

"We have the chance to make this one of the most convivial parts of London, or we have to acknowledge failure and admit that an area just minutes from the Palace of Westminster will be dominated by the car and the unlit subway." Ian Coull, chairman of the South Bank Employers Group, spelt out the future last year when he got the 17 businesses in the group to put their hands deep in their pockets to subsidise the Spine Route.

The Arts Council gave them pounds 1m to hang 6-metre indelibly-inked banners off the street lights along the South Bank. It was the first initiative in a public arts programme that involved artists and the local community to transform a series of bleak spaces into a vibrant outdoor gallery. It helps to unite a disparate group of buildings: all the architectural gems that you will see in the Millennium Mile exhibition turn their worst side to the main thoroughfare. Interspersed with some hideous buildings, such as the Cell Block H of London Weekend Television and the Lubianka of IPC, the area certainly needed something to pull it all together.

Street furniture that was designed especially for the Millennium Mile gave it street cred. The architect Alex Lifschutz looked through every catalogue to try to find something with character that wasn't bolt-on heritage with ghastly Georgian lanterns. "It was like furnishing a room with a sofa at one end and a bath at the other," he said. "So much fake `heritage'.

"Every manufacturer came at it from a different point of view. Dustbin manufacturers are only interested in dustbins, lighting designers only in the lamppost." So with his partner Ian Davidson, and a concept from the traffic control design department CDT/HLS, they set about designing new street furniture that didn't look as if it had come from a car boot sale.

First, they narrowed the traffic lanes of Upper Ground, put in sleepers to slow traffic, and lined it with small steel drums that double as bollards and seats. They took the elegant tensile structure that was the tallest tower in he world at the Festival of Britain in 1951 - the Skylon, by Powell and Moya - as their inspiration for javelin-like posts to line the pavements. The Skylon Mark 2 supports lights, flower baskets, double- sided banners and street signs, in a very measured way. "It gives the characterless street an identity," says Lifschutz.

No decorator could have done more than the young architects Lifschutz Davidson to make over the main road. Now people eat in it, cruise it, party in it. London Weekend Television celebrated its birthday in it. It has a vitality and excitement about it. Even the hanging flower baskets, brightly sown with annuals by Lambeth Council, don't make it twee.

Like all modern architects, Alex Lifschutz worked on the space between buildings to make attractive views, opening out to the river, encouraging shops, wine bars and bistros to open at Gabriel's Wharf and to keep a riverfront walkway running parallel to the spine route. Two new, well lit and beautifully designed subways under Blackfriars and London Bridge free the river route: Lambeth decorated theirs with Victorian photographs of bridge-building, and Southwark used Cumbrian slate panels carved with scenes celebrating the frost fairs of the 17th century when the Thames froze over.

But Alex Lifschutz is not one to rest on his laurels - or the laburnums planted along the pavements. Even though there are only these two designs, the steel drum and the javelin, he thinks that they should have been used more sparingly. "My personal view is that we should have been a bit calmer about it and had a bit less street furniture."

He is most proud of the fact that they accomplished it all on the bits of land that weren't public spaces, and therefore needed co-operation from 23 landowners. "Most of the land is owned by the businesses. Only occasionally will you see the little studs that delineate the public highway, but everyone agreed with Lambeth that this land would be thrown into the public realm rather than the private." The South Bank Employers' Group may have a boringly matter-of-fact name, but they can be proud of their vision.

Now Lifschutz Davidson has designed a new range of street furniture that seeks, with just one component, to free pavements and parks all over Britain.

"Take a snapshot of the street you live in, and highlight in yellow all the bits that furnish the street, to see how many bits and pieces litter our streets and public spaces," Alex advises.

Most streets look as if they were furnished from a car boot sale, with telephone circuitry boxes, lampposts, litter bins, road signs, bollards, benches and barricades designed to induce road rage in pedestrians. The MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey, once flagged all the dog turds in a square to make people notice the everyday things that despoil space.

Lifschutz Davidson have rationalised the tangle with a single modular post on which equipment can be clipped, including telephone boxes, parking meters, pay and display systems, dustbins, electronic signage and amplification systems for mobile phones and security cameras. "It's going to reduce clutter on the streets and let people breathe, and find their way through hurdles."

They have involved Royal Fine Arts early on in the project, to get their design accepted for sensitive historic sites. The prototype, made by Woodhouse in Warwick, will be ready in a few weeks and they hope to go on sale with the new system, which is called Meridian, in around three months time.

"Social identities and practices are shaped by people's experiences of the street," says Nicholas Fyfe, a senior lecturer in geography at the University of Strathclyde.

In Images of the Street, the new book he has edited on planning, identity and control in public spaces, London's South Bank gets only one mention: "The homeless sleeping elbow-to-elbow under cardboard containers on London's South Bank".

But not on the Millennium Mile.

The Millennium Wheel: on 23 August Tussaud's will announce their plans to take it over and turn it into London's top tourist attraction. This week, the Tussauds Group announced the purchase of Thorpe Park. The pounds 19m privately funded Ferris Wheel, which has British Airways support, is designed to be parked close to Westminster. The 450ft wheel above the Thames is the world's highest observation wheel, even after planning insisted on it being reduced by 10 percent from its original design by architects David Marks and Julia Barfield. Thirty-two capsules will each hold 25 persons. The wheel revolves in just under half an hour.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?