The 2016 festival explored the theme of “community”, demonstrating architecture’s relevance to London’s needs through an amazing programme of 345 events across 23 London boroughs. The line-up included exhibitions, talks, tours, workshops, installations and debates. From cycling tours and performance sculpture, family building workshops and an exploration of 21st century community centres, to architecture through the eyes of TV documentary and stand-up in the BT Tower, the London Festival of Architecture offered a programme that was diverse, informative, thought-provoking and fun. The 2016 festival made a serious point too, at a time when the city faced an unprecedented period of change. In the face of pressures on housing, public services and public space, the festival demonstrated communities’ enthusiasm to engage with their surroundings and the built environment. Themes explored through the programme included: housing renewal and regeneration, creative workspaces and community engagement.
Work in Progress
In 2015 the LFA looked at the city as a work in progress. With London in a constant state of change and regeneration, the festival looked to the architecture community to question it. As architectural photographer Paul Raftery discussed how technology changed the way we view the built environment, a group of Irish and London based architects compared the beginning of their careers. The public witnessed a debate featuring Will Alsop, Munira Mirza and Alison Wilding as they discussed how policy and design can encourage creative places in cities to thrive, and a panel responded to Al Jazeera’s documentary series, which brought architects and filmmakers together to discuss how the architects role is changing. The festival featured many interactive installations and exhibitions including The Red and Yellow Pavilions, a Kingston University built Japanese Pavilion, a pop up TREExOFFICE in Hoxton, a Brutalist playground and a Skip Garden. But the highlight was most definitely London’s First Sleeperie, providing a sleeping hub for tired Londoners.
The 2014 theme was Capital. The festival took Londoners on walks round the Gherkin and Centre Point, on jogging tours of the Olympic Fringes and sunset boat tours down the Thames to explore the historic and modern architectural landmarks. This year also included the chance to take a ride on a routemaster to explore the capital city. With headlining debates involving many big names in architecture and in London, questioning ‘whether London needs more tall towers and, if so, how do we make sure they’re done right?’ and exploring the importance of conversation between architects, urban designers and the public. Talks were given by Will Self, Yinka Shonibare, Ian Martin, Patrick Keiller and Lisa Jardine and whilst the AA School of Architecture built Pavillions.
A Time for Architecture
Now an annual event, the festival focussed on ‘A Time for Architecture’. This year was the first year that the festival focussed on the whole city rather than hubs and also the first year of the LAD Fringe. It included a train tour, focussing on stations built in the 1930s, a bicycle tour of Brutalist London, an exhibition of architectural models from all over the world and one highlighting the ‘Lesser Known Architecture’ of London. With a few others in the mix, the highlights had to be the opening of the Barbicans Curve Project, Welcome to the Social, highlighting the transformative effect of life, and the Barbicans commissioned work by Leandro Erlich - Dalston House - in which he created the “detailed facade of a Victorian terraced house – recalling those that once stood on the street…” and allowed visitors to feel as if they were “standing on, suspended from, or scaling the building vertically.” (barbican.co.uk)
The Playful City
Hitting its fifth year, the London Festival of Architecture explored London as ‘The Playful City’ honing in on the excitement surrounding the upcoming Olympics. Covering three weekends and encompassing areas of London such as Hoxton, King’s Cross, Fitzrovia, Victoria, Southwark and the London Pleasure Gardens. Open studios sprung up all across London, giving the public an insight into the lives of London’s architects and artists, whilst exhibitions and installations explored the ideas of The Developing City, London’s weather and how the upcoming Olympic Games was changing the cityscape. The playful theme encouraged offices to clear their desks and create giant ‘ping pong playgrounds’ and roads to close for huge picnics.
The Welcoming City
Exploring three key areas of London, this years festival focussed on London as The Welcoming City. The first weekend focussed on an event aptly named The Nash Ramblas. Following John Nash’s route between two royal parks, from Regents Park to St James’; Londoners were treated to walks that showcased Regent Streets new windows, created by some of London’s best architects and Matthew Lloyds water/solar powered lift on the Duke of York Steps. Weekend two, stretched from Aldgate to Stratford, representing a section of the London Olympic Marathon. Speeches were given by the likes of Rafael Viñoly and Ken Livingstone and roads were closed to traffic creating a space for Londoners to relax. The third and final weekend took Londoners to Bankside to discover an Urban Orchard and a space to relax created by Raumlabor using ‘bubbletecture’. Other highlights included Midsummer Madness, a solstice bike ride, Dogs for Architecture, showcasing dog friendly architecture across London and a bike ride through French London.
Focusing on “fresh thinking, fresh ideas, fresh talent, fresh collaborations and fresh cultures”(Canadian Architect) the festival saw sell-out talks from international names such as Daniel Libeskind, David Chipperfield, Rafeal Viñoly, Cesar Pelli, Rem Koolhass and Peter Ackroyd along with structures and installations from the likes of Foster + Partners, Tonkin Liu and Carmody Groarke. With five hubs across the city and five weekends, the LFA shut down Exhibition Road to showcase a fresh flower pavilion, a throwback to the animal theme with some geese, the Pachamama Toilet alongside installations by Virginia Tech, Royal College of Art and London Met. Zaha Hadid’s ‘Swarm’ chandelier hung in the V&A, whilst Londoners walked through the Sonic Garden collecting sounds or relaxed at this years highlight - The Southwark Temporary Lido.
In its second year, the festival covered the notion of change, celebrating “the change and consistencies of London Life, the meeting of rural and urban, of architecture and agriculture…” (Zoe Williams, the guardian). Featuring things such as The London Oasis, a sculptural piece that responds to its environment, a photographic exhibition of subterranean London by Alan Williams, speeches by Renzo Piano at Southwark Cathedral and Boris Johnson, then the newly elected mayor of London, a Pecha Kucha at Sadlers Wells and a feast at Borough Market. But again the highlight involved animals in the city, with Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers shepherding 60 sheep across the Millennial Bridge attracting over 15,000 Londoners.
When the festival was a biennale
The very first Architecture Biennale, now known as the London Festival of Architecture, took place in 2004 and lasted ten days. It’s central focus was illustrating how the past determines the future and was based in the Clerkenwell area. It included lectures and talks from Zaha Hadid, Peter Ackroyd and Dayen Sudjic, seminars touching on topics that are still relevant such as ‘Gentrification v Regeneration’ and ‘Who Makes London?’ But the highlight of the festival was most definitely the cattle drive down St Johns Street to Smithfield Market, which brought thousands of Londoners, young and old, out of their homes and into the city.