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UEL architecture academic wins competition to create ‘Modern Maypole’ in central London 


University of East London (UEL) architecture senior lecturer Alex Scott-Whitby (pictured) has won a prestigious international design competition to create a 'Modern Maypole’ in central London.

His firm, ScottWhitbystudio, shared the accolade with engineering company WhitbyWood, founded by his father, Mark.

The two companies will construct the ‘Modern Maypole’ – a complex tower of 32 golden maypoles representing the 32 London boroughs – for the 2018 London Festival of Architecture from 1-30 June.

The structure will form a contemporary focus for public events and activity outside the church of St Mary-le-Strand – the site of London’s largest and long-lost maypole, which was erected after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and towered over the 17th century city.

Alex said, “We are delighted, humbled and tremendously excited to have won the ‘Modern Maypole’ competition. As a team it means a great deal to all of us to have been tasked with the honour of creating a new structure on this hugely important London site. 

“We hope that what we create will become a place for Londoners to meet, visitors to explore and a marker point that will help London forge its new identity.”

Each of the golden poles is held in place by ‘tensegrity’ – a term coined in the 1960s by Kenneth Snelson and Buckminster Fuller whereby the structure stands thanks to the compressive strengths of the anodized aluminium poles and the tensile strengths of coloured steel wires acting in unison.

Mark said, “The Modern Maypole is the result of the wishful thinking of a father-and-son collaboration which has led to a ‘look no hands’ structure that is challenging our own engineering logic.

“Winning the competition has been both exciting and challenging for WhitbyWood as we now look to turn our design dream into a constructed reality by putting our theories to the test.”

After the 2018 Festival, the poles will be donated to schools and community organisations across the capital, forming a legacy of civic beacons in London for years to come.

The international design contest was launched in June 2017 and was open to architects, artists, designers and engineers. ScottWhitbystudio and WhitbyWood saw off competition from a field of 32 entries to win the commission.

The London Festival of Architecture was founded in 2004 and is now firmly established as Europe’s biggest annual architecture festival. In 2017, there were more 600 public events across London, the vast majority of which were free and attracted more than 400,000 visitors.