It’s 40 years since the Brixton Riots sparked a national outburst of protest against rampant racism. Brixton’s changed a lot since then – it’s been hit by gentrification, for a start – but it’s still got a multicultural buzz.
If you turn left after coming out of the tube station and walk up towards the massive town hall, you’ll come to a piazza-style area called Windrush Square.
This was once common land, but was enclosed in the early 19th century. In the late 19th century Henry Tate bought it all and established a theatre, library and gardens.
These gardens were stripped of some metal in World War II, and remodelled in the 1960s. By the 1980s they were rather dingy. In 2010, they were remodelled again, becoming a mixture of a village green and a stone piazza, and the area was renamed Windrush Square. The remodelling was not universally welcomed, as this blog shows.
If there is a little too much hard-surfacing, in general the remodelling has been rather successful. It’s a huge open, pedestrian space. The chairs (some attached firmly to the ground) are placed conversationally, and people do indeed have conversations. It is a multi-functional space, with people sitting, chatting, milling about, rushing for a train or bus. It’s definitely a something, rather than an accidental space. An improvement on the original gardens? In some ways, perhaps not, although it’s truer to its common land heritage than Henry Tate’s enclosed garden, and as a public space, it works well.
Getting the architecture of public spaces right is crucial to not just the atmosphere of a place but its heart. The intention of Windrush Square is clear: this is a space for slow-living, for community and friendship (and not even the recent, apparently temporary, concrete anti-terrorist blocks can threaten that).
While we wait to see what the intentions for the Market Square are, we can also imagine what Mill Road could look like.