Dixon Jones was commissioned in 1998 to develop a master plan for Somerset House and strategically re-establish its position among the new cultural landmarks running along the Thames. Despite being one of the most important 18th century buildings in London, the public had been progressively excluded from Somerset House – its court had become choked with parked cars and the river terrace was no longer used as a public promenade. The master plan conceived a grove of fountains to animate the central courtyard transforming it into one of London’s most dramatic public rooms.
A grid of 55 jets of water springs up to six meters high directly from the surface of the newly cobbled space. Each fountain incorporates four fibre optic light sources, which dramatically highlight the water displays. When they are turned off, the fountain disappears, leaving the space clear for large-scale open-air events and a public skating rink in the winter. On the River Terrace is a new footbridge linking Waterloo Bridge to the River Terrace. The connection is a simple ramped bridge which cuts through Gilbert Scott’s stone abutments. In urban design terms, it creates a shortcut for commuters and students wishing to get from Waterloo to the Inns of Court, London School of Economics and King’s College.
The terrace café provides 100 seats with six tree-like canopies. These specially designed canvas canopies are tensile structures that act like inverted umbrellas, with rain drawing to central columns.