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.

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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.

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“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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“Power is about making things happen”

 

  • Ros Morgan is Chief Executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance. In this essay, Ros explores this year’s theme of ‘power’.

Ros Morgan with John McElgunn from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners under the LFA 2019 ‘Boundaries’ installation on Piccadilly, St James’s.

 

The word power has a few meanings. Yet underscoring all of them is a sense of motion, a sense that things are moving in a certain direction and that, ultimately, a change is taking place.

The point about power, therefore, does not lie in its possession but in what it achieves.

For me, power must always be used to effect positive change. On an individual level, this means how we can inspire and empower one another and, on a professional level, it means the ways in which we can lead by example and instil a sense of purpose throughout our organisations.

 

Being at the helm of a business improvement district (BID), purpose and generating benefits for our members run through everything we do. We undertake activities to enhance the commercial wellbeing of the area, which means viewing it comprehensively and then bringing members together to participate, engage and bring about change.

 

Most recently, we have been pushing for positive change to our public realm. We know that London, as well as cities across the UK and the rest of the world, are facing a variety of challenges. From the pressures of a rapidly changing climate and an increasingly urbanised population through to the issues our historical infrastructure and buildings present, we must respond in a way that future-proofs our cities.

This means making our streets and public spaces powerful in and of themselves. We need them to be places that don’t just prevent these challenges from worsening, but to be places that actively promote the solutions. Whether that’s through design that manages traffic to reduce emissions, better wayfinding to promote sustainable transport or places that foster health and wellbeing, we need to be harnessing the full power of our public realm.

 

After all, power is about making things happen and that is exactly what we do as a BID.

 

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The power of a festival

 

  • Owen Wainhouse is the Deputy Director for the London Festival of Architecture. Following the open call for LFA 2020, Owen reflects on the theme for this year’s festival – ‘Power’.

Dietmar Rabich

 

What’s the point of being powerful unless other people know how powerful you are? That line of thinking has led countless men – and it was usually men – to commission giant buildings to demonstrate their power and wealth.

From Parliament to Buckingham Palace, architecture is used as a sign of power everywhere. To walk through London is to see the city’s legacy of competing religious, regal, political, military and commercial powers all vying for prominence in built form.

More recently perhaps we’ve tended to put a stop to vanity projects including the Garden Bridge and the Tulip Tower. But aren’t the vanity projects of yesteryear the architectural endowment of London today?

 

 

Every year the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) takes on a different theme to spark debate and to inspire event organisers to come up with a programme that is unique to the festival, and one that can only be seen in London in June.

Unlike many other festivals the LFA is not a top down organisation. It’s not ‘done by us for you’.  On the contrary, the LFA strives to democratise the discussion around architecture and our city by expanding the range of people who hold events. We work hard not just to engage more people to come to the festival, but to encourage more people to become event organisers. Through the festival organisers get their voices and ideas heard.

Last year 300 unique individuals and organisations came together to stage more than 566 events as part of the festival – including debates, installations, exhibitions, lectures, open studios, workshops, tours and much more.  In 2019 these organisers collectively helped us to meaningfully engage more than 800,000 people.   What’s the point of a festival unless you reach a wide audience?

 

 

Choosing a theme for a festival might seem like a simple job.  Over the last few years we’ve explored architecture through our themes of memory, community, identity and boundaries.

Each year we want a theme that is not just current and relevant to a wide public audience, but one that lets people tackle tricky issues affecting the profession and wider society. And one too that gives an opportunity to celebrate and tell a positive story.

This year as we discussed various possible themes with our friends and partners, we realised everything kept coming back to power. But power is not just about who’s in charge.

Although political power touches almost everything to do with architecture, there is also the very literal and very pressing issue of how we power our buildings and our cities.

 

 

With many in the profession declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’, the idea of power as energy has crept up the political agenda. From fuel cells in basements to solar panels on roofs – where does our power come from and who’s going to be supplying it? Who are the architects leading this green revolution and taking real action to address our use of power?

From Extinction Rebellion to the Architects Declare movement, we are also seeing a huge return of people power. How is the rise of powerful protests and community action affecting architecture?

A nation’s Hard Power – its military forces – play a role in exerting its will around the world. By contrast ‘Soft Power’, the term coined by Joseph Nye, is a nation’s ability to influence others through cultural means. Architecture has always played a huge part in our soft power arsenal. Both from our stunning buildings in London which draw huge crowds here – to the London-based architects taking their designs and building around the world. As Brexit looms large, what role for architecture in our international Soft Power?

And then there’s the changing power dynamics within the profession, particularly around the role of the architect.

Despite being published in 1532 Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince is still arguably the greatest guide to obtaining, holding and wielding power in the modern world. Machiavelli tells those seeking power that it is better to be feared than loved. Many architects bemoan their loss of power and influence. Are architects losing their power because they want to be loved rather than feared?

These are just a few aspects of power and architecture that we hope will inspire many of the festival’s 2020 events.

 

 

But if all that sounds a little un-festive, it’s worth remembering the biggest power we possess – the power to transform lives through good design.

Architects possess tremendous power to improve our lives.  Isn’t now the time, amongst all this political turmoil, that we shouted about the power of good design to change lives?

What’s the point of architects possessing great power – unless they let other people know?

 

 

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Empowering Architecture

  • Gonzalo Herrero Delicado is the Architecture Programme Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts and part of this year’s LFA Curation Panel. In this piece, Gonzalo shares his thoughts on Power. 

When I first heard about Power as the theme for the next edition of the London Festival of Architecture, I felt really excited about the many different directions and debate opportunities that this theme can bring to the festival. In particular, I was interested in exploring the idea behind the transformative role of architecture to empower people.

 

The first thing that came to mind was Deyan Sudjic’s seminal title ‘The Edifice Complex’ (The Penguin Press, 2005) – a must-read book for anyone submitting a proposal to this year’s festival. As he explains in this book, architecture must be understood primarily not as art, but as an expression of power over a landscape that will last far longer than we do. A unique instrument of statecraft.

 

Since its origins, architecture has been used as a medium to represent power, whether religious, political or economic. From pyramids and cathedrals, to stadiums and corporate skyscrapers, all of them represent how the rich and powerful have shaped the architectural language of our cities in history. Today, global capitals such as London are the reflection of the multiple interests of governments, corporations and individuals at a worldwide scale.

 

On the other hand, over the last ten years we’ve seen how the neo-liberal pillars sustaining and giving shape to our cities have trembled as people took over control of public spaces to make their voices heard. From the Occupy Movement to Extinction Rebellion, these actions have catalysed unrest and a will for change all over the world. Citizens are taking over some of the most iconic public spaces and creating loci in which to vocalise collective dissent.

 

While in these instances, the term ‘public space’ recovered its original meaning, it also became one of the central topics and claims for many young architects. But, can your public spaces and buildings actually be reframed and transformed to empower citizens to take back control of the city?

 

I look forward to seeing the proposals submitted to this year’s festival, hoping that some of them will address this important issue and whether architecture today is designed for the few or the many.

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Who holds the power?

  • Angela Dapper is a Principal at Grimshaw, currently overseeing their hotels and commercial projects, and part of this year’s LFA Curation Panel. In this piece Angela explores her thoughts on this year’s theme of ‘Power.’ 

 

Power and practice: who holds power, and how does it inform creativity? Those that tightly wield their power to maintain strong creative direction – often under the guise of teaching those ‘below’ them – can sometimes be suffocating. Respective of this, we ask: does beauty arise through championing struggles and constraints, or rather unbound freedom to explore? How do we express ourselves in a political and creative climate so tightly bound by power – one in which we are held so accountable by stringent planning systems and internal bureaucracy?

 

Sometimes the most beautiful responses are those released from societal confines, from another’s personal and contemporary world-view. What would it mean to free ourselves from these shackles of context, removing the pressure of finding the appropriate response, and instead enduing ourselves with the power to create our own visionary architectural environment?

 

Art and temporary installations give an opportunity to put forward a spatial and temporal response to our current political and societal landscape.  We are continually bombarded by the intensity of the news and the frequency of social media ‘soundbites’, when most of us dearly crave intellectual depth and genuine human connection. We desire for both elements of surprise and moments of calm, in our lives and in the world around us; we yearn for opportunities to be, if only momentarily, taken out of this world and into another.

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The power of a brand

  • Following the open call for LFA2020, LFA Project Coordinator Eliza Grosvenor reflects on the LFA’s recent graphic design competition and the striking merchandise it produced.

In January 2019, we launched a graphic design competition to create and oversee the branding and merchandising for the 2019 edition of the Festival. Tying into our mission of championing budding talent at all stages and from all disciplines, the project offered the opportunity for the winning applicant to showcase their graphic design skills to London’s wider architectural community and the Festival’s global audience.

The competition welcomed applications from creatives across the industry, including graphic designers, architects, designers and artists with the view to capture the creativity of individuals and organisations with a passion and interest in graphic design and develop a fresh and exciting new perspective on the LFA’s online, print and product presence. We were overwhelmed by the response from across the profession.

We shortlisted five practices and after much debate selected the amazing team at Studio Egret West. The lively practice has supported the festival for many years and knew the festival’s ethos well. They came up with many suggestions for how to capture the heart of the festival as well as bring in reams of fresh ideas.

Studio Egret West developed a range of LFA branding material which was displayed at events and distributed to organisers, designed online and print graphics and templates and updated the design of the 2020 LFA Review.

The work of Egret West revealed the power of strong branding, capturing the expansion of the LFA over the last 4 years as well as covering the city with an abundance of LFA pink.

For 2019 we also partnered with Online Reprographics for the printing of our merchandise and Annual Review.

We’re delighted to be continuing this partnership with both Studio Egret West and Online Reprographics for 2020.   We’re excited to see how they both interpret our theme of power for the next festival.

      

        

 

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Shifting power dynamics

  • Ellie Stathaki is Architecture Editor at Wallpaper* magazine and part of this year’s LFA Curation Panel. In this piece, Ellie explores her thoughts on this year’s theme of ‘Power.’

Investigating notions of power during the 2020 London Festival of Architecture seems appropriate at this time of political uncertainty and changing European relations.

 

Of course this is only one of the theme’s many interpretations. The tensions between public and private, urban and rural, civic and corporate are hugely affected by the power struggles among key players – being in a position of power is a status that is hard to obtain, and even harder to maintain. Yet do some hang on to it more than others?

 

The implications on the urban realm are numerous. It would be interesting to investigate current situations but also dig deeper into the reasons behind ongoing battles and changes. Asking questions is always a good starting point; for example, who is the real beneficiary behind urban decisions? What has changed in the last few years? What are the new powers in force today?

 

At the same time, power is not just about the social sustainability the above issues may immediately imply. It can also be interpreted from an environmental perspective, through the study of energy resources, our built and natural context, and our life and wellbeing through the lens of the ecological challenges of our planet.

 

There’s certainly plenty to explore around this year’s theme and our call for submissions will hopefully inspire the capital’s architects – and not only – to take part in a journey through the capital’s shifting power dynamics.

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“Our most powerful instrument – thought”

 

  • Nadia Broccardo is Chief Executive for Team London Bridge. In this piece Nadia explores her thoughts on this year’s theme of ‘Power.’

 

Power – aggression, arrogance, force, control. These were the words that came to mind when the theme for LFA2020 was launched. In a time when so many are seeking power of our thoughts, our spend and our time, how would the London Bridge area respond and what is Team London Bridge’s role in shaping it?

 

Taking a few days to digest and question the connotations and emotional response to ‘Power’, it is clear that there are exciting opportunities to interrogate this poignant theme, especially at a time when our country is deeply divided, the world’s politics is dictatorial, and our capital is trying to manoeuvre through the change.

 

In London Bridge we have the powerful beacon of The Shard, the power of democracy in City Hall and Southwark Council, and the power of research and education within the medi-culture cluster around Kings’ College London and Guy’s Hospital. The new London Bridge Station is one of the best examples of the power of engineering you’ll find in the UK, and the power of place and community is embodied in Team London Bridge itself.

 

In June 2020 we have the chance to amplify these very different interpretations of the theme and I’m most interested in how our response inspires our most powerful instrument – thought.

 

 

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The power of culture

When I heard that LFA 2020’s theme was Power – the first image that came to mind was the animation of the creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel which was used for many years for the opening credits of Alan Yentob’s Imagine on BBC2. The figure of God represents the ultimate power, but what connected it to the Festival for me was the buzz and crackle of energy as God’s and Adam’s fingers touched.

 

Power is the speed with which energy is delivered and what excites me about the London Festival of Architecture in particular and about London as a whole is the massive amount of energy created by the interaction of people and ideas. The Imagine intro neatly described that buzz; a buzz that is generated by London’s diversity, its density and its amazing, world-beating, culture.

 

The spark that unites Michelangelo’s two figures might also be seen to represent  a digital connection, the synapses of the city that link us together in an increasingly smart  and connected metropolis.

 

There are of course darker meanings behind the title of Power and it is depressing to see the way it is being wielded right now, whether in Hong Kong, India, Westminster or Washington. Perhaps these manifestations are a temporary blip, but I worry they are not.

 

I do, though, have faith in the power of culture to imagine a progressive world, and in the citizens who engage in it to deliver a future that is more sustainable, more just and more diverse. I am proud that the power of the London Festival of Architecture lights up that world as it brings people together to shape a better city.