The London Festival of Architecture has always proved to be a platform for vigorous debate – both about our theme and about wider issues affecting London. On our Views Pages we give space to a range of contributors including industry leaders, curators, academics, politicians and other less-heard voices to express their views and ideas. These are their opinions and not necessarily those of the Festival. We hope you find them in equal parts inspiring and challenging.


Making Models

When it comes to the process of design, architects develop their plans in different ways. Despite the power of computers and visualisation, physical models still play a vital role in helping architects develop their ideas and communicate their thoughts to clients.

We’re delighted to share this short film from LFA Patrons Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, which explores the role that making models plays in their work. The film was produced by Edward Bishop  Tom Thistlethwaite and Anna Rank for FCBStudios.


Learning from Taiwan: An LFA Visit to Taiwan

  • André Holmqvist is Programme Manager at the London Festival of Architecture. In this essay he tells of his visit to Taiwan

Street scene, Hualien, Taiwan


A few months ago I travelled to Taiwan with the help of the British Council to meet with architects and architectural institutions. It has been the aim of the London Festival of Architecture to increase our international engagement, and with the help of the British Council’s Connections through Culture Grant I met some fascinating people and and discovered the architecture of a country which values historical preservation and community engagement in architecture.

To many Europeans, Taiwan is still the synonymous with ‘Made in Taiwan’. Although the bulk of manufacture gradually moved from Taiwan a few decades ago, the industrial heritage is still visible everywhere. The reuse and repurposing of the industrial heritage, and a layering of periods and styles in many ways became a recurring theme of my visit.

Recently opened, the Jut Museum in Taipei is the first museum in the country to focus on architecture and the future of cities. The director of the museum, Ms Huang Shanshan, showed me around their exhibition Paradise Lost which presented different aspects of urban transformation.  One of the exhibited artists, Yao Jui Chung, explores the aftermath of Taiwan’s rapid urbanisation, with factories and real estate developments abandoned as the frenzied investment cooled off.

Yao Jui Chung, The Monkeys: Roaming around the Ruins IV, 1993


Many of the disused factories that still scatter the island nation’s cities have been preserved and repurposed, and a great number have been turned into museums and cultural centres. A prominent example in Taipei is the Huashan 1914 Cultural Park: a disused old winery turned into an artist village of galleries and performance spaces. The grey concrete architecture is softened by lush vegetation left to grow all over the old structures, and new walkways have been added to connect the buildings.


Huashan 1914 Creative Park, Taipei, 2005


A recent restoration project initiated by the Jut Foundation was the restoration and reconfiguration of a Japanese 1930s food market, now repurposed as the cultural centre Umkt (Xinfu Market). Architect Yu-Han Michael Lin divided up the open space with semi-transparent light-frame wooden walls that do not affect the original structure. While no longer functioning as a market, the Umkt project aimed to preserve the spirit of the Taiwanese market as a social meeting point. It is now is a cultural meeting space with cafés and facilities for food education. Located in a warren of small alleys in Wanhua, Taipei’s oldest district – with relatively aged population, the building was abandoned for a long time. It was a delight to find the space full of young people and arts students who make the covered market a destination and meeting point once again.

Umkt, Taipei, Yu-Han Michael Lin, 2017 ©


Umkt, Taipei, Yu-Han Michael Lin, 2017


Anywhere you go in Taiwan, you are struck by the impressive investment in the cultural sector which can be seen in big cities and small towns alike, with newly created performance spaces, exhibition spaces and museums. For LFA 2019, Francine Houben, of Mecanoo architects, spoke about designing the newly constructed Kaohsiung National Center for the Arts – the world’s largest centre for the performing arts with four stages. I was shown around the centre by the head of international partnerships, Gwen Hsin-Yi Chang. When visiting, one is struck not only by the scale of the project, but also the openness of the architecture. Far from being an ivory tower of the high arts, the building invites the general public in from the surrounding park with a covered public plaza on the ground floor and an amphitheatre that cuts into the building’s façade.


Kaohsiung National Center for the Arts, Kaohsiung, Mecanoo, 2018


Creating architecture for people is also very much the aim of Fieldoffice Architects, led by Professor Huang Sheng-Yuan. Professor Huang received me at their practice, which is located in the middle of flooded rice fields outside the city of Yilan. As he told me, the vision of Fieldoffice is an eco-paradise of life in the countryside, which is apparent in their many projects which respond both to the surrounding countryside and existing architecture. By uncovering the underlying geography of the landscape they aim to heal the city piece-meal, bringing pockets of green to busy streetscapes and uncovering built-over rivers in the city centre. In the same vein, their Cherry Orchard Cemetery is a sculptural complex that emerges almost as a part of the mountainside. Instead of building a new pedestrian river crossing in Yilan, Fieldoffice created a ‘parasite bridge’ with a walkway suspended to the existing road bridge. Working with existing structures, the practice aims to add to the city’s historical layers and develop the collective memory of the place. The focus is always on people: when crossing the parasite bridge, you have to navigate around exercise bikes and built-in playground toys.


Cherry Orchard Cemetery, Yilan, Fieldoffice Architects, 2005-2014


Jin-Mei Pedestrian Bridge (Parasite Bridge) across Yilan River, Fieldoffice Architects, 2005-2008


Another stop on the tour was a meeting with the practice Atelier 3. The practice was founded by Taiwanese architect Hsieh Ying-Chun who devotes himself into what he calls ‘social architecture’. Hsieh has been helping people rebuild their homes since the 1999 earthquake in Taiwan. Atelier 3’s post-disaster reconstruction uses steel-frame structures that can be easily assembled with the help of residents from the homeless communities, ranging from a remote village in China and the disaster area of Southeast Asian Tsunami. The system can be adapted to include local building methods, ranging from wattle-and-daub to bamboo and stone wall panels.


Community reconstruction projects, Hsieh Ying-Chun ©


A common sight in Taipei are rooftop extensions, often erected without permission. People add vegetable gardens or an extra room with self-built structures. For a 2011 exhibition entitled Illegal Architecture, Pritzker-prize winner Wang Shu and Hsieh Ying-Chun of Atelier 3 reflected on such spontaneous architecture with installations in Taipei. Wang constructed an eye-catching wooden structure on a Taipei rooftop and Hsieh created a suspended room straddling a narrow alleyway. The two installations explored how building technology can be made more easy so as to involve people in the construction of their homes without experts, resulting in an architecture responding more quickly to the needs of people.


Illegal Architecture, Taipei, Wang Shu, 2011 ©; Illegal Architecture, Taipei, Hsieh Ying-Chun, 2011 ©


As I learnt from an exhibition at Huashan 1914 Creative Park, people in Taiwan have long had an active part in the construction of their own homes. In the 1960s, the Public Construction Bureau built a series of model houses that emphasised health and modernity. Floor plans were released to the public who were encouraged to take loans and build their own houses.

1960s plans and projections for model homes


Many thanks to the British Council for sponsoring this exchange through the Connections through Culture Grant and to the Taipei Representative Office for all their help; thank you also to Fieldwork Architects, Atelier 3, the Jut Foundation and Museum, Umkt (Xinfu) Cultural Market, Huashan 1914 Creative Park, and the Weiwuying Centre for the Arts.


Discovering Empowerment

We wanted to make a short film for the London Festival of Architecture exploring what POWER – their 2020 theme means to young people (aged 16-20) living in Brixton but then along came Covid-19 and the lockdown made it impossible for us to meet and have a group discussion as we had planned for the film.


But being given the chance to have our voices heard by an audience on a platform that we don’t easily get access to was an opportunity that we didn’t want to lose…….so we decided to adapt how we filmed in order to create something that would provide a taster of our thoughts on the topic. Instead of filming the group of contributors together we filmed each contributor individually either outside or they self filmed in their homes and I interviewed them by phone – all just as the Covid lockdown restrictions were starting to be eased.


We have edited the content we filmed into a trailer which gives an insight into the common themes that we will explore in more detail when we eventually make the ‘Discovering Empowerment’ short film.



The two common threads through all of the interviews were:


  • Young people feel that power comes from within their own communities.
  • Emmanuel, who is in the trailer felt very strongly about this and said that if he had the choice to leave his community to live somewhere else perceived as being ‘safer / with less crime/ more affluent or more desirable etc’ then he would not go because that would be a weak thing to do. He felt it was more powerful to stay and influence his community for the good of everyone in it, from within it.
  • They also feel that power is strong and can be used for good in the right hands.
  • Everyone we interviewed for the trailer raised this point individually and I think their comments come out of looking around them and reacting to how they feel those in power at the moment use it.
  • Like many young people, often adults don’t ask my opinions and if they do then there is a sense that their interest isn’t that genuine as they don’t actually listen to what I’ve got to say. Instead I get told what to do and what my opinion should be about things a lot.
  • Making this trailer and having it presented on this platform is therefore in itself empowering. We are really grateful to the LFA, ftwork and We Rise Brixton to have been asked to create it.


Vanessa Rojas (16), Brixton



Discover the latest from the world of architecture & design with Aesthetica


Aesthetica is the destination for art and culture. Each edition keeps readers up-to-date with the latest developments in the sector, whilst providing year-round visual inspiration. In-depth features foreground today’s most innovative practitioners across art, design, photography, architecture, music and film. It has a readership of over 400,000 and national and international distribution.


The June / July issue, Recalibration, is about realignment and hope. As humans, we need to understand our place in the world and the fragility of this ecosystem. This edition considers how to connect and create in lockdown.


London Festival of Architecture is proud to have Aesthetica as a media partner for the 2020 edition.


Find out more about the latest design developments and the digital edition of London Festival of Architecture in this latest issue of Aesthetica.

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Equipping designers to create a sustainable post-pandemic future

  • Louisa Bowles is a Partner and Head of Sustainability at Hawkins\Brown. In this essay she explores the ways in which architects have the power to help us reach net-zero buildings

Architects have the power to fundamentally change how buildings and places affect the planetary and human environment. But first we need to understand the impact of the choices we make when designing a building and how it will affect its lifecycle.

As we settle into our new reality for the medium to long term, we are seeing some encouraging discussions around the imperative to design for a low-carbon future, such as investing in infrastructure that supports walking and cycling as well as green energy. We are also seeing reports of significant reductions in air pollution since the start of the pandemic. This is compelling, of course, however it shouldn’t trick us into thinking the pandemic has in any way lessened the urgency of the climate crisis.

What architects can do

We need a paradigm shift in the way we design. To achieve Net Zero buildings, we must start measuring, sharing, reporting and reducing carbon emissions – and, based on design and delivery cycles it needs to happen now so we achieve the 2030 deadline required to limit global temperature rises.

But Net Zero traditionally refers only to the energy a building uses during its lifetime. We can’t only look at the energy it takes to run buildings anymore: we need to look at the carbon emissions across the whole lifecycle and take a Whole Life Carbon approach. This includes embodied carbon, which is the carbon emitted in extracting, manufacturing, transporting, maintaining and disposing of materials that are used to create buildings.

Carbon literacy

Carbon needs to become one of the key drivers for a project, along with brief, context, programme and budget. Architects are not used to designing with data like engineers or surveyors. But the decisions we make have a huge impact on a building’s Whole Life Carbon emissions, and in turn, the UK’s wider carbon footprint. By the end of a building’s early design stage (RIBA Stage 2), the building form, aesthetic concept and materials we have chosen will determine the carbon emissions generated for the buildings life.

At Hawkins\Brown we have invested in a research programme that aims to give our architects carbon data about their projects as early as possible. H\B:ERT (Hawkins\Brown Emissions Reduction Tool) plugs into our 3D design software, Revit, and provides a visual breakdown of the embodied carbon of materials as soon as they are tagged in the model. Coupled with engineering data, the tool can advise on the optimum balance between operational performance and material choices.

Healthy environments

Of course, carbon is only part of the story. A Net Zero building that does not perform and does not enhance the life of its occupants is not a good carbon investment at all.  This is why our research and design approach also encompass areas such as daylighting and air quality. Air quality is one of the major issues of our time and without tackling this, our efforts to design low carbon buildings will be hampered. Developing simple rules about how building and street form can assist in creating clean air has been key to improving the early stage decision making.

Creating environments that are low carbon and enhance human health and provide joy are essential to our work at Hawkins\Brown and we equip our teams with the early stage knowledge needed to lock best practice into every project. In order to meet our common goal for reaching the 2030 Net Zero targets, we have made our H\B:ERT available for free, and continue to share our knowledge for a sustainable future for all.



Conversations on power: Jeremy Goldstein, Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler


  • Jeremy Goldstein is the founder and director of London Artists Projects and the creator of ‘Truth to Power Café’.  In this piece he speaks with Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler, directors of Unscene Architecture and co-curators of the British Pavilion at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale.




Jeremy Goldstein: ‘Truth to Power Café’ is an international live performance event reflecting hope, loss and resistance, as participants including myself respond to the question ‘who has power over you and what would you like to say to them?’ before a live audience, and now online as part of our digital platform.

This year’s London Festival of Architecture on the theme of power, offers a unique context for us to think about the question at the heart of project, the impact of the global pandemic on our cities, and what we’d like to see in a post-COVID world.

Last week I caught up with Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler, founders and directors of UNSCENE Architecture and co-curators of the British Pavilion at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, and this is what they had to say.


Tell us about UNSCENE?

Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler: UNSCENE was founded in 2019 as a practice that operates across disciplines and scales to reveal the unseen forces that shape our cities. We work with local communities to give them greater agency over how they use and occupy their spaces. Providing a platform for design, research, curation, consultation and realisation, we aim to provoke a wider conversation about the city through action rather than just words.

We founded UNSCENE after teaching a number of workshops and summer school units that explored how to open up the city in a variety of ways. We studied together but took different routes within architecture, exploring similar interests through different formats and methods, which has led to interesting forms of collaboration, as well as richer and more nuanced ways of reading the city.


Jeremy: You’ve been commissioned by the British Council to curate the British Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition at la Biennale di Venezia with a work called ‘The Garden of Privatised Delights’.  What can we expect to experience, and what do you hope to achieve?

Manijeh and Madeleine: Inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, our project The Garden of Privatised Delights looks at new models for privatised public space. The exhibition will engage in the current debate around ownership, use and access to what we perceive as public space. We will transform the British Pavilion into a series of immersive spaces, commissioned from leading researchers and practitioners, including The Decorators, Built Works, Studio Polpo, Public Works and vPPR, presenting both a critique of how they are currently used while providing strategies to increase people’s agency over their public spaces. Six new models for privatised public space appear as immersive experiences inside the pavilion. Spaces under threat like the youth centre, high street and pub as well as inaccessible enclaves like the garden square, are overlaid with proposals for how they can be reprogrammed and revitalised. Additionally, two new proposals for government ministries call for a bottom-up approach to conversations around the ownership of tangible assets such as land, and intangible assets like our personal data.


Jeremy: What are some of the buildings or projects in the public realm that inspire you the most and why?

Manijeh and Madeleine: There are several projects that inspire us in terms of how they engage the public or draw attention to spaces in the public realm that are otherwise overlooked. In 2018 British artist Stuart Semple created #HostileDesign – a public awareness campaign to identify instances of hostile design in public spaces. He created stickers to label objects such as the armrests on public benches that prevent homeless people from being able to sleep on them as hostile, and encouraged the public to capture and disseminate similar instances on social media. Similarly, Led by Donkeys holds politicians to account by highlighting their “thermonuclear hypocrisy”. The group of political activists projects statements that politicians have posted on digital channels onto physical spaces to make both the public and politicians more aware and less likely to forget the views, opinions and positions posted online. Land ownership is another issue in the UK that is very opaque and contentious with only 85% of all land being documented on the Land Registry’s website and 5.2 million acres yet to be registered. The ongoing project Who Owns England? by Guy Shrubsole and Anna Powell-Smith uses a forensic approach to map land ownership across the country through searching databases, submitting Freedom of Information Acts and initiating a whole host of investigations.

Projects that activate spaces in the city are also inspirational to us. The successful 2013 Long Live Southbank campaign fought against the Southbank Centre’s Festival Wing plans to infill the undercroft area along the river with shops and restaurants. Instead, the survival of the skatepark on that site showed the power of a community to reclaim and preserve the space for use by skateboarders who enrich the life and activity along the riverbank. Going beyond the UK, in Stockholm, White Arkitekter ran a series of workshops titled Places for Girls after their research showed that from the age of eight onwards, 80% of public space users are boys, with girls feeling 10 times more insecure. These workshops gave teenagers the opportunity to design their ideal public spaces on their terms. These examples are just a few of the many local and global projects that we find inspirational to challenge and redesign the public realm.


Jeremy: What would you like to see in a post-COVID world?

Manijeh and Madeleine: Over the past few months we have seen people get to know their neighbours and neighbourhoods in a whole new way. There is a heightened awareness about public space and the importance and need to access it. There is an enormous opportunity to rethink our built environment and make a more equitable and accessible city. We are beginning to see new ways to programme and activate privatised public space to allow people to come together safely, and our hope is that this continues. Pedestrians are reclaiming the pavement, questions are being asked about how parking spaces could be better used as gathering, meeting, or social spaces. Important questions are being asked, such as why aren’t more privatised public spaces, such as golf courses and private school playgrounds, open to the public when they are out of use. We have to use this time to see how we can live more sustainable and fairer lifestyles, rather than go back to the way that things were.  And it is now more important than ever that we look to understand how we can save spaces of social exchange and community hubs, such as the pub and the High Street.

As architects we are in a unique position to facilitate conversations between landowners and the general public to develop public/private partnerships that benefit local communities. There are ongoing conversations about privatised public space, but these, all too often, occur in silos.  Design can play a huge part in how a space is used and perceived, but there are also other elements that control space, including ownership, maintenance and legislation. Through the pavilion, we are bringing these different stakeholders together, along with the general public, in order to rethink what privatised public space can be. Our aim is to empower the public to take ownership of their spaces by giving them tools, skills and resources to use and maintain their public spaces. Engaging with the conversation at every scale, from a policy level right the way down to a detail design and maintenance level, has allowed us to rethink what public space can be, and find ways to open up these spaces for all to enjoy.

Our hope is that a post-COVID world will see the public empowered to use their spaces differently and to ask better questions about: who owns them, and how they can access and use them. We would like to see a more adaptable role for the architect – not just as someone who designs and builds – but as a facilitator of conversations that bring people together. How can architects be involved in the more strategic decisions about the city from the earliest stages, in order to influence decisions that manifest in the material detail that people experience?


Jeremy: Is there a time in your life when telling the truth, or standing up for yourself had a memorable impact on you?

Manijeh and Madeleine:  The process of working on the competition for the pavilion and subsequently being selected to curate the British Pavilion has been a journey of discovery and growing self-belief. We entered the competition having always wanted to work together on a design project like this but never imagined we would even be shortlisted, let alone win. Being selected has been a catalyst to set up a practice together and has given us a stronger voice to stand up for what we believe in – that everyone should participate in the making of public spaces. It has given us the opportunity to have a variety of conversations with different decision-makers across the built environment and made us realise the important role that the architect can play to bring people together and facilitate conversations to change how users and inhabitants engage with their cities and spaces.

We designed the pavilion from the outset as a platform to initiate a much wider project and seeing this start to come to life has made us grow in confidence and believe in our abilities to realise complex projects and stand up for what matters. It is often easier to believe in someone else and see them truthfully compared to yourself so we find that working together has given us the opportunity to do that for each other. The journey so far has definitely been challenging but it has also been an exciting and memorable experience that we are constantly learning from.


Jeremy: Who has power over you and what do you want to say to them?


  • To sign up and have your say in ‘Truth to Power Café’ live show or digital platform click here.



Ellie Stathaki: Curation Panel Picks


  • Ellie Stathaki is Architecture Editor at Wallpaper* magazine and part of this year’s LFA Curation Panel. In this piece, Ellie selects her favourite events in the LFA Digital Programme.


In this, new, digital edition of the London Festival of Architecture, there’s something for everybody. Orchestrating and discussing architectural experiences in a city in lockdown can feel like a challenge at first; but a closer look reveals the many ways architecture, and the festival, can adapt to this new ‘normal’.


Is baking the right form of escapism for you? Join the brilliant and ever-popular Architectural Bake-off. Do you miss architectural tourism? Look no further than the Czech Centre’s virtual tour of the newly restored Villa Winternitz by Adolf Loos. Do you prefer to spend your time perfecting your design skills? A model-making workshop might be just the thing for you, while making an actual doll’s house will ensure the whole family gets involved.


If you missed the fabulous Freestyle exhibition at the RIBA before lockdown hit, worry not; the curators made sure a digital version is now open to all.


An engaging session about nature and architecture with Tonkin Liu offers inspiration for both the present and future. The latter comes up again at the Women in Office Design’s virtual event on changing workspace environments.


In all these and more, this year’s theme, ‘Power’, is a key touchstone, and the debate about power and architecture remains open, ongoing and as wide ranging as ever, as displayed by the video series 30 Objects In 30 Days, the festival exciting new addition.


To discover the whole collection of Curation Panel Picks, head here.


Expansive Programming: LFA in Aesthetica Magazine

Aesthetica Magazine is the destination for art and culture, and we’re delighted to have them on board as media partners for LFA Digital 2020. 


For their new June/July issue, Aesthetica are exploring realignment and hope, considering how to connect and create in lockdown and featuring a fantastic piece about the digital edition of the Festival, including some powerful insights from our director Tamsie Thomson.


“The lockdown has definitely affected the dynamics of where and how we live. As we spend more time at home, the priorities for many people’s living situations are being forced to change, from the value being placed on outside locations – such as gardens and balconies – to the importance of ‘genuine living spaces’ and natural lighting inside. This raises important questions about how we can live in healthier ways: both mentally and physically. The issue of energy, and how we are powering our buildings with increased indoor activity is definitely also part of this important conversation.”


London Festival of Architecture returns, directed by Tamsie Thomson (as quoted above). The programme comes in digital format, from 1 to 30 June, asking pertinent questions about the worlds of domestic, industrial and commercial design. The theme for 2020 is Power, encouraging wider dialogues about the radically changing landscape. Thomson expands: “There is a lot of scope to explore political power and how this has shaped our architectural landscape, not just in terms of a physical built environment, but also on a social level. There’s a balance of power in terms of stakeholders and the growing collective of people taking back public space.”


Read more about the 2020 edition of London Festival of Architecture in the June / July issue of Aesthetica Magazine.


LFA followers can subscribe to Aesthetica – 12 months for £12 – with the code LFA12:


People power in the delivery of better housing


  • Paul Karakusevic is the founder of  Karakusevic Carson Architects, one of the Mayor’s Design Advocate and part of this year’s LFA Curation Panel. In this piece Paul shares his thoughts on Power.


The LFA2020 theme of power is fantastically provocative and for me it raises issues about citizenship, the rights to the city and for whom London works.


London’s name alone is powerful. Tell people you live in London when you are overseas and faces light up. The name alone conjures up a heady mix of scale, attitude, ideas and design possibilities. It is incredibly potent.

Yet for millions of people who live here – those living in poverty or in poor housing, those who cannot afford a home or watching from the side-lines as their communities transform – they can feel completely powerless. For these citizens, London’s potency lies in its ability to defeat and consume them, rather than as an enabler of a happy and fulfilled life.


Londoners of all kinds need confidence that the city is working for them and that their voices are being heard on the issues that in the 21st century will make or break the capital; truly affordable housing, stable employment, public space and the environment.

The new generation of council-led housing are powerful symbols that voices are at last being heard and London is entering a new era where quality, space, materiality, durability, light and joy in the design of new homes matters. To make this shift permanent, housing needs to be regarded as vital city infrastructure and local government, forward-thinking housing associations and community housing groups have a fundamental role in making this change.


The most exciting periods in London’s history have always been those of flux, when dominant power structures have been challenged and new ones emerge. In the 1880s, Londoner’s campaigned hard for their own government in the form of the LCC, wresting control from remote central government and taking forward the change they needed for themselves. In the 1970s mass protests threw out urban motorways and neighbourhood demolition. In a similar way, estate ballots are now seeking to tip the scales back towards community leadership and create a mechanism for resident participation, accountability and ultimately improved housing. We are now witnessing resident groups becoming advocates for design quality and this pressure translates to better design, detailed specifications and new housing created with greater pride and oversight of workmanship and craft.


For LFA2020 I am looking forward to seeing proposals and ideas that explore the potency and application of grass roots people power and how we may yet mobilise this force to create more quality housing and a more equitable London in the 21st century.


“What if we focused instead on empowerment?”

– Clare Richards is the founder and director of ft’work a non-profit organisation, working to help create thriving communities and ensure clear social principles underpin development within the built environment. She is also a patron of the London Festival of Architecture. In this essay she shares her thoughts on our 2020 theme of ‘power’.

Who has it? Who doesn’t have it? We tend to think about power only to the extent that people exert it or are subject to it. From ft’work’s perspective, as an observer of the impact of development on communities, the imbalance of power is not just evident, it is evidently destructive.


We live in a divided society, for which housing has long been a microcosm. To those on the receiving end development and regeneration are perceived to be about ‘them’ and ‘us’ and while such divisions exist, our chances of building thriving communities are hampered. Is it a surprise then that Grosvenor’s recent survey on public trust in placemaking, found that just 2% of the public trust developers and only 7% trust local authorities on planning for large-scale development?


Lack of trust and disempowerment go hand in hand.


What, then, if we focused instead on empowerment? If we could achieve a fairer balance of power in the development process would it have a significant impact on the outcome? The answer is undoubtedly ‘yes’ and there’s plenty of research to back this up. It was an American public servant, Sherry Arnstein, who in the 60s devised the Ladder of Citizen Participation demonstrating the distinction between ‘citizen power’ (citizen control, collaborative partnership), ‘tokenism’ (placation, consultation) and ‘nonparticipation’ (manipulation). 40 years later Professor Michael Marmot (UCL) published Status Syndrome, the product of 30 years of research that established that ‘autonomy’, the degree the control you have over your life, is a key determinant of well-being and life expectancy. Then there are a growing number of examples of community-led developments to show that when people have the power to make decisions and see them enacted, the results are demonstrably successful. Just take a look at the shortlist for this year’s New London Awards Community Prize.


We (that is architects, developers and local authorities) simply cannot afford to ignore the benefits of empowerment and collaboration. It is this that creates social capital, an invaluable resource that prompts mutual support and collective action and which, in turn, is a measure of a community’s sense of identity and success.


Isn’t this the proper meaning of ‘social value’? The beneficial product when a balance of power has been achieved and when those on the receiving end see and believe that they have had a real say as collaborators in a joint venture.

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