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Architects launch competition to design Heathrow fortress

The plot of land where the stronghold will be built – in the village of Sipson to the north of the airport – was bought last year by Greenpeace, which then distributed ownership of it to people across the world. There are now over 60,000 beneficial owners of the runway land with more people signing up every day on the Greenpeace website, creating a legal headache for any government trying to push ahead with Heathrow expansion.


Now the one acre plot will see the construction of a fortress intended to defend the land from bulldozers and bailiffs. The structure will support owners of the land, local residents, seasoned campaigners and anybody else who wants to peacefully block the construction of a third runway. As well as leading architects, the panel of judges includes the comedian Alistair McGowan and the sculptor Rachel Whiteread CBE, who designed the official memorial to victims of the holocaust in central Vienna. Once the winning Heathrow design is chosen Greenpeace will raise the funds to build it. Previous Greenpeace appeals have raised seven-figure sums for specific projects.

The Open Ideas Architectural Competition launched on 28th January 2010. Competition judges and leading figures from the architecture industry joined campaigners at a reception, where the competition brief was revealed. The contest is open to architects, architectural students and architect-led mixed disciplinary teams. Given the nature of the brief, the judges are actively encouraging engineers, artists, landscape designers, sculptors and other professionals aligned with associated bodies to collaborate and submit designs. Greenpeace is also inviting the public to submit ideas via its website on how to defend the land in a ‘mass brainstorm’ to come up with the best concepts.

Greenpeace Executive Director, John Sauven said:

"This is a competition to design what could become the next frontline in the fight against climate change. Whoever wins the next election they will come under enormous pressure from the all-powerful aviation industry to push ahead with a third runway. But if the bulldozers roll they’ll face a fortress occupied by a massive movement of ordinary people who oppose Heathrow expansion."

He continued:

"We can raise the funds to build it, now we need the right design. We’re looking for a structure that is immovable and allows local residents and seasoned environmental campaigners to peacefully block the diggers. It might be underground, it might be overground, it might be both, that’s up to the panel of experienced judges from the worlds of architecture and activism to decide. This is a battle of the architects. The other side has a budget of billions but in the end only one structure will be left, and it won’t be a new runway."

One of the judges is Professor Neil Thomas, the founder of renowned structural engineering consultancy Atelier One. He said:

"This has to be one of the most fascinating design briefs ever put out to competition. Architects are being asked to design a structure that will become iconic the moment it’s finished. Then, very soon after completion, it could face the possible threat of bulldozers and bailiffs trying to tear it down. We think they’ll fail. British design is in a very exciting period at the moment, so it’s with some relish that we judges await the entrants."

Also on the judging panel is experienced environmental activist Oli Rodker, a veteran of the 90s road protests, when campaigners built ingenious structures to block the construction of roads and bypasses across the country and eventually forced the abandonment of a multi-billion pound government road building programme.

The deadline for submissions is April 23rd, with the winning design announced soon afterwards. An exhibition of the entrants will be held in a central London gallery at the beginning of June.

Another judge is leading architect Peter Clegg, Senior Partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. He said:

"As architects we know what can be achieved in terms of carbon reductions through the design and engineering of our buildings.  But we are painfully aware of the fact that there are bigger issues to do with major infrastructure projects where we also need to make a stand. Just as more and wider roads mean more cars, more runways will lead to more planes. We have to take a stand against freedom to fly anywhere, anytime and at any cost, and put an end to the absurd lifestyle changes that we are indulging in, that are increasing our carbon footprints and negating the savings we are managing to make in other areas."

For more contact Greenpeace on 0207 865 8255 / 07801 212967

Competition brief, autocad drawings and plans of the site can be downloaded at:


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