The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has been a lot of things, and one of them is an opportunity to delve into creative design. So when established artist and designer Camille Walala biked onto the typically bustling Oxford Street during the first lockdown in London, the creative juices started flowing.
Seeing the empty street prompted Walala to imagine what the space could look like if it were permanently converted from a street to a pedestrian-only hub. Her trademark blocky and colorful architectural installments became a central element in the design, with bold elements that stand in steep contrast to the street’s current two-dimensional, monochromatic and car-polluting status.
Walala sees the project as an expression of love for a city she’s called home for 23 years — a city that has provided endless inspiration and opportunities throughout her career as an interior and street art designer.
“I found myself with more and more opportunities to develop my practice and ideas — to play with pattern and colour at larger and larger scales,” Walala explained. “If I’d lived somewhere else, if I’d not been rooted in London’s creative scene, surrounded by the people I was, I don’t know if I’d even have become an artist.”
The vision came during a bike ride with Walala’s partner, creative producer Julia Jomaa, and the event sparked an imaginative discussion about how the space could be used for public gathering along the lines of an agora in ancient Greece. The image for the space on Oxford Street, however, is not only functional but visually demanding with contrasting bright colors alongside black-and-white geometric patterns. A massive, centralized water fountain is surrounded by seemingly interlocking geometric blocks. It’s a little like a larger-than-life Lego installment. Striking planters curve throughout the area, providing seating and a space for interacting with nature.
Although the design is an inspired vision of what the area could be, it’s also a potential realization of “a serious proposal for a new, more enriching urban landscape.” The discussion of creating a car-free capital isn’t a new one, but Walala’s dramatic and artistic spin may just be the inspiration the city needs to make the change toward a pedestrian-focused plaza for generations to come. After all, a pandemic is the perfect time to contemplate the future.
“This project is my what-if portrait of the city of tomorrow, and my own projection of what the London I love might one day look like,” Walala said.
Photography by Camille Walala with Omni Visual and Dunja Opalko