Churchill recognised the connection between architecture and identity when he said ‘we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us’. Whether you were born here or have just arrived, you can call yourself a Londoner – but what is it that makes a Londoner? What defines the city and therefore the identity of those who live in it?
Our 2018 theme of ‘identity’ was the wellspring for a lively and diverse programme of more than 530 events organised by more than 300 separate organisations and individuals – helping us reach an audience over well over 600,000 people.
We launched our hugely influential #SeeTheElephant campaign, expanded our year-round competitions programme and held our first symposium at the Royal Academy, helping us explore our theme in a more rigorous way.
LFA2017 broke all records to become the largest festival to date with over 600 events attracting over 400,000 people. Our “memory” theme acknowledged London as a city of myriad layers of memories: of people, buildings, places and experiences. Festival highlights included the award-winning Dulwich Pavilion by if_do (the result of a design competition organised in partnership with the Dulwich Picture Gallery), a world premiere of new choral work in a disused Royal Docks warehouse, exclusive tours of Battersea Power Station, family workshops at the National Gallery, and the UK’s first ever ‘live listing’ with Historic England. We also launched ground-breaking new research at MIPIM 2017, revealing the huge economic value of London’s architecture sector for the first time.
With a full-time festival team in place for the first time, LFA2016 was the biggest to date with 356 events celebrating the theme “community”. Coinciding with a divisive Brexit referendum campaign and outcome, the LFA programme explored architecture’s power to bring people and communities together. Highlights included a festival of refugee art and culture, a very popular Pride breakfast for LGBT+ architects, a lecture by Turner prize winners Assemble and an extraordinarily competitive Lego Challenge at the Royal Academy. The festival covered a huge range of issues – from housing to community cohesion – in the face of enormous change across the capital.
2015 Work in progress
In 2015 the LFA looked at the city as a work in progress, with the architectural community questioning a city in a constant state of change and regeneration. Architectural photographer Paul Raftery discussed how technology has changed the way we view the built environment, and Will Alsop, Munira Mirza and Alison Wilding debated how policy and design can encourage creative pace to thrive in cities. The festival looked beyond London and into the future too: with a series of pavilions by Irish architects and thought-provoking discussion on the future of the profession.
The 2014 festival explored London’s historic and modern architectural landmarks. Londoners and visitors were taken on walks round the Gherkin and Centrepoint, jogging tours of the Olympic Fringes, sunset boat trips down the Thames, and nostalgic rides on a Routemaster through London’s streets. Headlining debates involved many big names in London and architecture, questioning whether London really needs so many tall towers. An impressive line-up of speakers throughout the festival included Will Self, Yinka Shonibare, Ian Martin, Patrick Keiller and Lisa Jardine.
2013 A time for architecture
Now an annual event, the London Festival also looked beyond hub areas, focusing on the whole city for the first time. An eclectic programme included a train tour of stations built in the 1930s, a cycling tour of Brutalist London, an exhibition of architectural models from around the world, and an exploration of London’s “Lesser Known Architecture”. A standout highlight was Leandro Erlich’s Dalston House – a Barbican commission where a reconstructed Victorian terrace façade and a large suspended mirror played optical tricks on participants and passers-by.
2012 The Playful City
Over the course of three weekends, the London Festival of Architecture’s fifth outing harnessed the excitement leading up to the 2012 London Olympics, and explored how the Olympics were changing the city. The festival was concentrated on Hoxton, King’s Cross, Fitzrovia, Victoria and Southwark, with exhibitions and installations also exploring the concept of “The Developing City” while open studios sprang up all across the capital. The playful theme encouraged offices to clear their desks, heading out instead to play giant games of ping pong or enjoy huge picnics on specially-closed roads.
2010 The Welcoming City
The 2010 festival explored three key areas of London in turn. The first weekend focus on the Nash Ramblas – connecting Regent’s Park and St James’s Park – recreated a historic route with highlights including Matthew Lloyd’s water/solar powered lift on Duke of York Steps and the debut of Regent Street Windows – now a London staple in their own right. The second weekend focused on Aldgate to Stratford, and featured speeches by Mayor Ken Livingstone and Rafael Vinoly as traffic closures creates new space for Londoners to relax. The final weekend on Bankside revealed an Urban Orchard, a solstice bike ride and – at last – Dogs For Architecture.
Offering “fresh thinking, fresh ideas, fresh talent, fresh collaborations and fresh cultures”, the 2008 festival saw sell-out talks from international names including Daniel Libeskind, David Chipperfield, Rafael Vinoly, Cesar Pelli, Rem Koolhas and Peter Ackroyd, alongside new structures and installations from practices including Foster + Partners and Carmody Groarke. Featuring five hubs across the city and five weekends, the festival stretched its ambitions further, with Exhibition Road closed to traffic for the first time to showcase new work and future possibilities: in time leading to permanent closure and a lasting legacy for the festival.
For its second appearance, the festival covered the notion of change, celebrating both the transience and consistency of London life, an exploring the junction of rural and urban. Featuring highlights such as the London Oasis – a sculptural piece responding to its environment, a photography exhibition of subterranean London by Alan Williams, pecha kucha at Sadlers Wells, and speeches by Renzo Piano and the then newly-elected Mayor Boris Johnson. Animals featured once again, as Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano driving 60 sheep across the Millennium Bridge – surrounded by over 15,000 Londoners – provided an enduring image for the festival.
2004 When the festival was a biennale
The very first London Festival of Architecture – then known as the Architecture Biennale – lasted ten days. Its central focus, based around Clerkenwell, sought to illustrate how the past determines the future The programme included lectures and talks from Zaha Hadid, Peter Ackroyd and Dejan Sudjic, exploring topics that remain relevant today such as “Gentrification v Regeneration”. But the highlight was definitely a cattle drive down St John Street to Smithfield market, bringing thousands of Londoners – young and old – out of their homes and into the city.