Blog

Welcome to our Festival Blog.  With nearly 500 events this year, it’s almost impossible see everything in this year’s festival. But never fear, our team of festival bloggers will be visiting many of the highlights of our eclectic and diverse programme and brining you their take on these events and our theme of ‘identity’.

BLOG POST | | Robert Fiehn- Robert Fiehn Ltd

Never mind the self-build, where’s the punk in architecture?

As the day finally started to cool down, a small group gathered on a Venetian-inspired Altana and looked out over the Regents Canal and the buses sliding past along Mare Street. We were reflecting on an evening of heated debate about architecture’s connection to the punk movement of the 70s and 80s, or lack thereof.

The Negroni Talks series was set up by Fourthspace to create an informal backdrop to discuss issues affecting the profession as part of the London Festival of Architecture. Inspired by the café culture of the late 19thcentury, the aim was to get speakers and audience alike to feel comfortable to properly engage with one another in a fiery debate, and this was the first talk that really tapped in to some rebellious spirit.

Led by chief agent provocateur Tim Abrahams, the heady atmosphere of Campari and summer sun soon led to some strong opinions. Charles Holland saw the true feistiness of architecture in the opportunities brought about by the post-punk era, while Piers Taylor drew on the illicit elements of self-build (derided as more hippy thank punk by some in Ombra).  Caz Facey announced that punk was inherently amateurish and so architecture would always be out of reach, and Shumi Bose was more interested in the DIY projects she saw in Calcutta that could be a fusion of the two. The audience had their own opinions, with Sean Griffiths making the important point that punk was a working-class movement while architecture remains the arena of the privileged few.

There’s still a lot of doubt if buildings can allow for unbridled rebellion of the status quo but for a brief moment on a Monday night there was a little anarchy in the UK.

BLOG POST | | Lauren Hawkins- WilkinsonEyre

The Great Architectural Bake Off: The Inside Scoop

Last Saturday saw the return of the Great Architectural Bake Off! Now in its fourth year, the annual event is an opportunity for those working across the architectural and design worlds to don their aprons, dust off their cake tins and fire up their ovens. The likes of Farrells, Make, Stride Treglown, Zaha Hadid, Squire & Partners and our very own WilkinsonEyre team were all worthy competitors in the race to be crowned winner.

While normally participating in competitions to design buildings, the event challenges teams to instead, design and build the most architecturally impressive cake! In line with this year’s LFA theme of Identity, the brief called for teams to construct an ‘iconic’ building from nothing more than sugar, eggs and flour (and anything else which can be passed as ‘edible’).

The day got off to a roaring start as Team WilkinsonEyre set about the construction of a miniature Gasholders London, complete with the iconic guide frame structure. But, I hear you cry, how can those all-important Gasholder guide frames be both edible andfree standing? With the help of our in-house model shop, edible silver spray paint, modelling paste and edible glue, our team constructed over 180 components to be affixed, glued and slotted into place.

While battling to keep the guide frames upright against gravitational forces and the rising heat in the tent, the other half of our team were busy applying and smoothing copious amounts of buttercream icing to layers of espresso and mascarpone filled sponge. In true architectural style, the cakes were carefully measured and cut to a 1:200 scale (who said architects are sticklers for detail?!), with onlookers photographing and Instagramming our every move.

After 2.5 hours of shaky hands, drooping guide frames, artistic details and a few glasses of prosecco, it was time to put the frames around the cakes. With the addition of clear vanilla jelly to mimic the roof lights, edible glitter and even some foliage harvested from our office garden, it was time to put the palette knives down and step away from the cakes.

While awaiting the all-important results, this year judged by a range of industry experts including Peter Murray, Founder of the LFA, Tom Hetherington, Architect and star of Great British Bake-Off and Jane Duncan OBE, 75thRIBA President, we had a look around the tent to see what everyone else had cooked up. Squire & Partners reimagined Gaudi’s Park Güell from rice crispies and marshmallows, Make built bridges with their ginger bread construction of Tower Bridge and Fielden Clegg Bradley Studio created a dystopian vision of The Southbank Centre, complete with a sugar moulded roof.

The overall winners were Benoy with their brilliant construction of one of London’s most iconic cultural landmarks, “The Barbicake”. Congratulations to all the teams involved, we’re looking forward to next year already!

– Lauren Hawkins, WilkinsonEyre

 

 

 

 

 

BLOG POST | | Owen Wainhouse- London Festival Of Architecture

Identity, Architecture and London

  • This essay from Emma Dent Coad, MP for Kensington and Chelsea, is part of a series of essays on identity and architecture commissioned by the LFA.

It can take me half an hour to buy a pint of milk from my corner shop. It’s not a long way. I don’t have limited mobility. But I live in the kind of neighbourhood where you get into several conversations on the way there, in the shop, and on the way back. Some days this can get annoying, but on the whole there’s nowhere else I’d rather live. If your car breaks down, if you seem fed up, if you’re unwell, there’s always someone friendly you can ask for help. Welcome to North Kensington.

There are places like that around Kensington and indeed across Kensington and Chelsea. And when constituents come to me to fight some local planning application, it is often the loss of these connections, this microcosmic living in their urban village, which they fear the most.

What we’ve seen and heard recently from the Grenfell survivors is precisely that umbilical connection with their neighbourhood. They knew each other. Their children played together, in the walkways, on the landings, up and down the building. Many had lived there a long time. The Tower, and the estate surrounding it, was a neighbourhood of families, not only blood family – which can often disappoint – but those they chose to adopt as family. Many were my friends too.

Lancaster West wasn’t perfect – and some of the facilities planned at the outset were never delivered. There should have been shops, GP surgery, and all the other daily essentials. But they were available nearby. There was open space, grass and trees, kickabout spaces. Then over years came the gradual erosion of the original concept. Green lung built over. Sports pitches moved away and monetised. No caretakers. Anti-social behaviour. Management and maintenance done on the cheap. Then finally, the refurbishment of the Tower, done to make it look better for the benefit of planned future neighbours, and decidedly not for the benefit of the Tower residents.

So what was being planned for the neighbouring SIlchester West estate which necessitated this cheap and deadly façade upgrade? Total demolition of cc500 homes to be replaced by ghastly supposedly neo-classical high-rise blocks, with narrow sunless courtyards.  So, we asked, at the so-called consultation meetings, are those new blocks right up against the Westway the affordable blocks? Do you know how bad the pollution is around here? Oh, they told us, we haven’t decided who will live there yet.

Because the Council and their overpaid planning consultants really think people are that stupid.

They said ‘North Kensington is the future South Kensington’. And they meant it. But these vapid anti-community aspirations tragically went up in flames, along with 72 of my neighbours. Silchester stays. It will now be refurbished.

Good planning and architecture should allow people to flourish, to stamp their own character on their neighbourhood. It should be the backdrop to the lives they wish to live. It should not control, define or impose certain lifestyles. But just look at some of our new developments, with floor to ceiling windows, curtains closed all day. Airless and windowless kitchens. No intermediate space outside. Why not think about how people live?

So how do we resolve these issues in a post-Grenfell Britain, and post-Grenfell London? The fire changed everything forever, and we must make sure it does. Let’s stop using that horrible word ‘regeneration’, which for social tenants means demolition of their homes and neighbourhoods, and wholesale decanting or forced removal to cheaper areas. Let’s look at where neighbourhood restoration, in all its many guises, comes from, and how it could be made to work for people.

We have neighbourhood plans, local authority Local Plans, and we have the London Plan. For all their fine aspirations, and after painstaking consultation, our Kensington and Chelsea Local Plan is ‘ok’ in many aspects. But then it is subjected to a reductive process by overpaid planning consultants, to squeeze out every last percentage point of profit for their clients. Residents are reduced to economic units. The finer aspirations for community living are deemed unviable to deliver. The lush parks of the visuals – with omnipresent child and red balloon – are reduced to narrow feature-less paved deserts with a few sad planting troughs. The promised new primary school goes private. The community centre goes out to tender and no GP can afford the rent on the health centre, so they turn it into a private gym.

The guilty parties here are the political class which, through ignorance, greed, or a genuine and malign intention of displacing low income families, have bought the protestations of developers.

The humanity has been sucked out of the planning and development process by the voracious demands of the international financial market, and the often sinister intentions of social engineering.

Frankly, the wrong people are in charge. Development Control has become Development Shock Troops.

I have just spent a few days in Barcelona, which I’ve been visiting since the early 1970s. Yes, some mistakes were made. But throughout the 1980s I was in contact with David Mackay, Barcelona’s City Architect. He told me over and again, that his job was to give the city back to the people. The little neighbourhood parks every couple of blocks. The pedestrianised Gothic quarter. The transformation of museums and art centres. Barceloneta with its beautifully restored warehouses. And most exciting of all – the gave the people the sea. Where once railways and industrial areas filled the space between the city and the water, there is now the Olympic Village, miles of promenade, and miles of man-made beach. It was a spectacular and generous gift to the people of Barcelona, which has paid back millions of times over.

So who has the power to deliver such a powerful vision for London? No one. Our dreams have been sold off to the international financial market, and replaced with plans for overpriced vanity bridges, and a competition for the most outrageously anthropomorphic or toy-like tower.

We have a planning process focussed on delivery, where we are the slaves of highly questionable viability and profit margins.

God help us – planning consultants are in charge of the future of London.

So who now will deliver the sublime civic spaces, the new or refurbished people-friendly neighbourhoods, providing housing for humans and not people warehousing? Who will demand that new schools should serve the immediate neighbhourhood, and that our elders should not – as we are seeing in Kensington and Chelsea – be forced into an elder warehouse in industrial estates? Who will monitor construction quality? Who will stop greedy developer partners building a generation of frankly shitty buildings?

Planning development has become an abstraction, a branch of the international financial market divorced from its purpose. And this has been revealed in horrific reality, with the fire at Grenfell Tower that should never have happened.

Enough.

I have written elsewhere about how to get the balance right between human need, architectural design, and neighbourhood or building management. I call this theorem ‘Soft, Hard and Plastic’.

Soft issues related to how people live, what provides a comfortable and convenient environment with everything you need close to hand, satisfying human need. Hard issues encompass the masterplanning and architectural design which delivers them, along with the construction quality which has become a huge concern. And plastic issues relate to building management and maintenance – so often an afterthought – where it should be forethought and planned into the project. Each of these elements should have equal importance.

I first wrote about this in relation to the original concept for Goldfinger’s Cheltenham Estate, the cradle to grave project with Trellick Tower at its core, plus nursery, GP, shops, family housing, sheltered housing, and a much cherished residential care home at its heart (shockingly demolished by the Council in 2009).

Without this balance between need, design and implementation, and after-care, we are lost. We are shoving people into units, and our elders into industrial estates.

If you want a stark vision of the future, as the impetus for change, come to Kensington and Chelsea and see just how wrong it can get.

We can, and must, do better. And that must be our legacy for the 72 dead, and hundreds displaced and traumatised, after the unforgivable and avoidable atrocity on my doorstep. The fire at Grenfell Tower must be a game-changer. And it’s our job to make sure it is.

BLOG POST | | Dave Hill -- On London

The capital’s story is told in the infinite variety of its buildings

  • This essay from Dave Hill, Editor of On London, is part of a series of essays on identity and architecture commissioned by the LFA.

London’s buildings tell compelling stories of the capital’s identity, not because they express some fixed essence of the city but because they reflect its lack of one. Like London, their variations are infinite and changing endlessly. Like London, they are both ancient and new, loved and loathed, dazzling and dreadful, stupid and stupendous, and often all of those things in the same street.

As is the case with London’s people, businesses and institutions, they tend to cluster in types, but also often form extraordinary mosaics. They can very uniform—regimented terraces and nondescript offices. But they can also be outlandish, innovative and timelessly inspiring as well as loudly quarrelsome, clashing in terms of ethos, aesthetics and aspiration as well as in their shape, function and size.

The discordance in London’s architectural landscape is matched in intensity only by the rows about London’s buildings that endlessly break out. London has been described as an ungovernable place, for all its blocks and layers of governance. Its architecture too speaks of an enduring state of creative disorder that works for some and not for others and of fractious negotiations between the longing for permanence and the hunger for change.

None of this is to say that Londoners don’t feel a sense of belonging. They do. Belonging in London, a recent paper on the issue from think tank Centre For London, reported that the large majority of people who live in London who think of themselves Londoners is of much the same size as it was 40 years ago, despite the fact that the proportion of Londoners born outside the city—either abroad or elsewhere in the UK—has doubled in that time.

Yet the paper also records that this unifying sense of London connection exists alongside stronger, highly localised attachments to, say, Battersea, Bermondsey or Bethnal Green and a corresponding lack of belonging to the capital as a whole. Evidence was also cited that many Londoners see themselves more as north, south, east or west Londoners than as Londoners per se.

London’s architecture and Londoners’ feelings about it sometimes seems to replicate those different levels and limits of affiliation. To pick a contentious theme, a 2016 poll found that significantly more Londoners thought new tall buildings enhanced London’s skyline and added to its “vibrancy” than took the opposite view and they were split in two over whether new tall buildings were “damaging what makes London special.”

However, the poll also found strong support for more limits on the heights of the very tallest buildings, for restricting them to certain zones, and for more public consultation about them, especially among inner Londoners, who have been more likely than outer Londoners to find a skyscraper sprouting in their neighbourhoods. Constructions of great height were, it seemed, seen by many as enhancing London’s global glory, but you might not want one casting a its long shadow over your backyard.

History has a lesson for us here too. Time has tempered hostility to London buildings that have broken height barriers in the past, from St Paul’s in the early 18thcentury to the Post Office Tower—now the BT Tower—in the mid-1960s. The same thing seems to be happening with the Shard. Walk south from Mount Pleasant down Farringdon Road and the skyline twinning of Christopher Wren’s dome and Renzo Piano’s spire really is a bit divine. That said, will future generations ever gaze up at the Walkie-Talkie and experience a sense of the sublime?

Today’s arguments about height are an aspect of a wider one about the built environment in London that also takes in character, heritage, housing costs, the preservation of state-owned assets—both buildings and land—and density levels more generally. Battles between conservationists and developers are very far from new to London, but they have lately risen in intensity and become increasingly politicised: Outer London Tories warn that Sadiq Khan wants to put condominiums in Havering’s back gardens; inner London activists campaign against “luxury flats,” even though often permitted by Labour councils as a means of generating more “affordable” ones at a time when everyone agrees the capital’s housing shortage is acute. Many Londoners, perhaps including planners and architects, are troubled by the pace and type of change taking place and feeling we lack control over what goes on.

That cannot be ignored though, again, it’s nothing new. One of the most famous tales of London politics, property and power is about how Joe Levy—bookmaker’s son, Blitz fire fighter and self-made post-war tycoon—got to build the Euston Tower. Levy once told it himself to Oliver Marriott, the then Financial Editor of the Times. In his book The Property Boom, published in 1967, Marriott describes visiting Levy in his office in Haymarket where the “small, jovial man” delightedly displayed how with a flick of a switch on his desk a pair of decorative alcoves rotated to reveal a miniature cocktail bar and a television set, on which Levy could watch his racehorses perform.

Levy related his dealings with the London County Council, which had told him that a one-acre site at the southern end of Stanhope Street, NW1 could not be developed because they needed it for widening Euston Road. Alas, the Council had forgotten that four years earlier it had granted Levy permission to build an office block there and could be looking at £1m in compensation if it used compulsory purchase powers to take the land. They ended up doing a deal—the first of many. The Tower and the Euston Underpass are its enduring and most conspicuous results.

But that was just the flashiest passage of a much longer and slower narrative. Between 1956 and 1960, Levy and his business partner had quietly purchased over 300 individual sites in the area between Hampstead Road and Osnaburgh Street—shops, houses, little factories, many of them tumbledown—covering some 13 acres, keeping their master plan concealed for fear of sellers getting wise and pushing up their asking price. Not until 1964 did Londoners learn that Levy’s company was the tip of an iceberg of connected firms that had, unnoticed, assembled the site that would host not just the Euston Tower but a whole Euston Centre too, a development theEvening Standard said amounted to “a miniature New Town.”

When we think of emblematic London buildings and streetscapes—parts of the capital’s built environment seen as symbolic of its identity, its character, its DNA—most of us don’t think of the Euston Road. But if in search of the city’s impossibly hybrid architectural make-up and how it has come about, that choked motor thoroughfare is an instructive place to start. It is an historically chaotic clamour of the speculative, the commercial, the municipal, the residential, three of London’s most famous railway stations—Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross, each of them subject to revision, refurbishment and debate about the need for them, and the red brick behemoth that is the British Library. To the south, Bloomsbury’s Georgian elegance rolls out. To the north, at the Pentonville end, the King’s Cross redevelopment scheme stands as a case study of a major modern regeneration done pretty well.

This story of so many strands shows that the web of relationships between Londoners and the buildings we encounter and inhabit is defined by another complex weave stretching back in time, one composed of public bodies, private interests, design visionaries and social idealists, all of them jostling to make their mark in bricks, mortar, steel and glass for two centuries and more. Much of what now stands is the product of combinations of competition and compromise, enterprise and regulation, demolition and renewal—the Euston Centre itself, including the original Tower, has since been refashioned as Regent’s Place.

It all underlines that much of London’s architectural environment emerges from a context of conflict, be that in the extreme form of the war damage that left so much of the city wrecked or those ongoing wrangles between different parties over its spatial development, with their differing definitions of what is best for the city and its people.

The recriminations and soul-searching that have followed the horrors of Grenfell might add a potent new dimension.

For some time now, the bigger picture has been moving. London’s current political climate has become less conducive to getting new stuff built. This was manifest in small but significant recent election results: a Labour councillor returned for the first time ever in Westminster’s West End ward, helped by local concerns about overdevelopment; five Green Party members taking seats in Lambeth, where opposition to housing estate demolitions has been energetic and well-publicised. But London politicians and planners have for some time encountered strengthening resistance to new building, be that from ideologues, Nimbys or preservationists with firm ideas about what constitutes good taste.

London is growing very fast. And if it is to grow well, building the homes, shops, offices and other workspaces it needs, the case for those things will have to be made more persuasively. Architecture has a vital part to play in this, by helping to demonstrate that higher densities need not mean lower standards or quality of life, that the new really can be an improvement on the old, and that local people, including those most directly affected by change, can play fulfilling parts in shaping it. London’s architecture has always been partly the product of the crucible where London’s many personalities meet, but it can be a crucial influencer too—a force for good in the unending evolution of London’s elusive identity.

BLOG POST | | Jenny Watt- Building Centre

City in Pink

Catching sight of LFA pink while walking through the city is enchanting. I like to think of members of the public who aren’t engaged with the festival stumbling across an installation or fortuitously wandering into a party. London is full of unexpected moments of inspiration and opportunity, it is also chaotic and at times unwelcoming. This is why this year’s broad theme of ‘identity’ resonates well, it delivers a far-reaching programme of events exploring the meaning of architectural, cultural and community identity. And perhaps those who accidentally find themselves in middle of a festival project will identify with the city differently, or at the very least feel welcome.

Requiem for Cross Bonesand St Pauls Gateway  grabbed my attention, both are set to give passers-by unique experience in the city.

I will take a peek at Battersea Power Station’s regeneration exhibition. View Pictures are documenting the changing identity of this iconic building. It seems bizarre to visit a partial construction site to see photos of a construction site, but I find these spaces endlessly fascinating and the sight of a numbered building core curiously pleasing.

The Future of London’s Built Environment Report Launchlooks interesting. The Building Centre led an ideas competition and exhibition on the night time economy with Amy Lamé for LFA 2017, so it will be great to see how the conversation has progressed.

Peter Barber rightly said at one of our recent events that the country should be marching in outrage against government housing policy. My marching boots are ready, but in the meantime I’m looking for a bit of hope from Designing for Public Good.an event on 12 June exploring creative interventions for improved public spaces and buildings. On the same evening is Regeneration and good growth, an event that promises a lively debate on who benefits from regeneration. Also on the 12this an event on data centres, join Tom Ravenscroft of Dezeen who will explore the architectural identity of these secretive mega-sheds – if you’re not already fascinated by data centres you should be, they’re alarmingly vital.

Well worth a mention is D-Construction, a hip-hop performance on identity and boarders. And a visit the Serpentine to see the work of Frida Escobedo during LFA2018 is a must, I think it’s the law.

BLOG POST | | Lauren Hawkins- WilkinsonEyre

City of Culture

This year’s London Festival of Architecture programme raises a host of questions surrounding the identity of our capital and of London’s status as a global city of culture. How do we read a city? What does a post-industrial city look like? Who uses it, and what for?

The identity of our public space shapes the way we live and work, and in turn is one of the most influential factors in affecting areas as diverse as architecture, art, economics and politics. Earlier this year, London Major Sadiq Khan published the Culture Strategy, a new report which aims to reconsider how we harness and implement a creative identity for London. It provides a roadmap into creating a ‘cultural infrastructure’, helping boroughs better plan for culture and to nurture the development of grassroots and community projects throughout the city. Creativity means big business, but how can we place it at the heart of our city’s identity?

LFA’s programme provides a platform to collectively rethink and understand how our city moves and to question London’s architectural identity. I’ll be attending a range of events and activities to explore the current areas of debate throughout the city.

This year WilkinsonEyre is an LFA Patron; I’m looking forward to representing the practice at The Great Architectural Bake Off… stay tuned to see what our team cooks up! Later in the month I’ll be attending Living above the Shop, a talk exploring the changing nature of the urban typology, considering the architecture of cultural space at Art Galleries in Reclaimed or Listed Buildings and questioning the global landscape of London at Why Design in the 21st Century. Finally, I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on London’s Thames: The River that Shaped a City, an architectural river boat tour where WilkinsonEyre director, Sebastien Ricard will join the panel to discuss our work on the refurbishment of Battersea Power Station and its connection to the river.

BLOG POST | | Robert Fiehn- Robert Fiehn Ltd

Rob Fiehn

It seems like only a few months since we last enjoyed giant sandcastles, pop-up choirs, secret gigs and one volcano jacuzzi but the London Festival of Architecture is back. The Memory theme in 2017 gave us the chance to look back and explore the heritage of our city and what buildings, people and places have done to contribute to it. Now we get the chance to think about who we are and how much we impose that identity onto the built environment, either consciously or subconsciously. In our current political upheaval, the issue of identity in London is even more relevant as there are very few urban centres that are made up of such a melting pot of different cultures and communities. I’m proud to say that this year I’m working on an installation that typifies a series of built forms that can be seen across the roofscape of Venice. The Ombra Altana is based on a timber frame that was originally built from leftover scaffold to dry clothes but became a handy al fresco dining spot high above the canals. By placing this outside an Italian restaurant in Hackney, the architects – Fourthspace and The Office for Crafted Architecture – will examine how restaurants can transpose the identity of one place onto another and therefore contribute to the greater whole.

The Altana has me intrigued about what other installations people have cooked up across the capital. In particular, I’m looking forward to exploring the Skip Gallery by Richard Woods in Hoxton Square that will highlight local gentrification; the Treehouse at Battersea Power Station by Studio Kyson, which will offer an abstracted version of the traditional concept; and Interpreted Identities, a series of follies inspired by extraordinary female figures – past or present.

BLOG POST | | Owen Wainhouse- London Festival Of Architecture

Welcome to our Blog

Welcome to this year’s LFA Blog. We’ve got a huge programme of over 450 events this June by a record 260 organisations. It’s virtually impossible to see everything in the festival (trust us we’ve tried) but never fear, our team of bloggers will be visiting many of this year’s events and writing up their thoughts and perspectives.

Our theme for this year’s festival is ‘identity’. Events selected as part of this year’s core programme were chosen by our Curation Panel for their particularly interesting or novel ways of exploring  theme.  Our wider fringe programme also has some fantastic architectural events which explore architecture and London more broadly.

As for me, I’m particularly interested in events that explore how the identity of an architecture practice is shaped by it’s founders and how that identity carries on long after the founders have retired or moved on.

The identity of London’s architectural community has been vasty improved the the breath of architectural talent from all around the world that have chosen to call London home. So I’m really looking forward to this short film Émigré Architect by Stirling Prize-winning practice dRMM architects looking at the contribution of the emigre architect.