Elephant and Castle

When I first cycled through the Elephant and Castle in 1991 I was so excited to be in a place with such a famous and colourful name. Excitement quickly turned to disappointment when I saw that the Elephant and Castle was merely a series of roundabouts and a run down shopping centre. Where was the elephant? Where was the castle? A fairy tale name for a very uninspiring location.

When in 2006 I found out that a complete redevelopment was being tabled I envisioned the Elephant and Castle having at it’s centre a giant building shaped like an one of my carved elephants.

Group of four elephants

Elephants in an exhibition. Carved from aerated concrete.

All it needed was a castle on top:


I presented this model to Elephant and Castle redevelopment committee for Southwark council and they liked it so much that they bought it off me and kept it in the foyer of their office.


At first I envisioned it to be made out of steel and glass like any modern self respecting skyscraper:



Then, whilst studying for a Master’s degree in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies at the Centre for Alternative Technology, I attended a lecture all about glass buildings and how badly they perform in terms of energy efficiency, overheating in one place whilst at the same time being too cold in another.

I also studied vertical gardens and even ran a year long experiment for my thesis to discover whether they had thermal benefits for buildings. I changed my ideas for the elephant and castle building and came up with something like this sketch:

Elephant with VG.1

The entire surface apart from the glazed areas would be covered in vertical gardens. The advantages of urban vertical gardens are:
– Reduction in solar gains, thereby minimising cooling loads. Not such an issue one would think in the UK, but Canary Wharf is being cooled all year round due to heat emitted form its central servers.
– Reduction in heating loads. Heat loss through the walls is reduced by the plants providing a buffer layer against the wind.
– Absorption of air borne pollution.
– Slowing of storm water run off: they absorb and slow the rate of run off thereby reducing the load on drains
– Reduction of noise pollution: they absorb sound rather than reflect it.
– Reduction of urban heat island effect. Greenery absorbs the sun’s rays rather than reflecting them onto heat absorbing surfaces like concrete and asphalt.

The end result was that my (admittedly amateur) proposal was rejected. It was relayed to me that the developers and the architects felt that ‘Such an obvious interpretation of ‘elephant’ would not be suitable for their project’. Fair enough, I am not an architect and I have no track record to speak of in this field. At least they liked it enough to buy the model and that is something to be pleased about.
I just had an idea that it might be nice to have an elephant in the Elephant and Castle so that others who come here in the future expecting something special might not have their expectations dashed. I hope they do build a giant elephant there, even if it isn’t mine. It is such a gift of a place name that it has to have something special.