nla news

Social City - 19/11/2014

Chris Mansfield
London needs to pay as much attention to its ‘emotional economy’ as it does to its bricks and mortar.

So said Camila Batmanghelidjh, Founding Director, Kids Company at a special NLA breakfast session yesterday, organized to assess what the construction industry can do to allow people to enjoy better lives in the capital and beyond.

Batmanghelidjh set up an organization 18 years ago to take care of children under 11 who were feeling ‘bereft’ at schools being closed, before being deluged with some 400 of the capital’s most disturbed and dispossessed children who the normal agencies had no capacity to help. Fast-forward to today and the statistics have not changed, said Batmanghelidjh, and repeated government initiatives are failing to reach these disenfranchised people, under what Batmanghelidjh called a ‘flawed system’. Because the majority of kids self-refer, Kids Company has no local authority funding, and, added Batmanghelidjh, some two million children are being maltreated in this country today. Following research by UCL, Kids Company found that as many as 1 in 5 of the children under its wing had been shot at or stabbed, a third were sleeping on floors, and 55% of kids didn’t even have a table in their houses. So the charity aims to make physical changes to their homes, and urges the built environment community to give help in this activity, as well as forwarding wealthy people Batmanghelidjh’s way to help its core funding. But when it came to managing these children with disturbed behaviours, nurturing and caring can alter gene expression where punishment can’t, said Batmanghelidjh, principally because of alterations to their frontal lobes caused by their backgrounds. The model you want, said Batmanghelidjh, is a care architecture that reduces the reasons why a child is frightened. ‘As you structure environments, it’s a really good idea to think about the emotional economy within them’, she said. ‘If you want stability in that environment you need to think about how you create a substitute frontal lobe’.

Christine Townley, Executive Director of the Construction Youth Trust also works with young people, specifically to give them opportunities to get involved in careers in construction. This includes a ‘Budding Brunels’ programme, working with Network Rail and Crossrail, taking young people on site, an awards regime, and through its Southwark training centre to link into the Elephant and Castle project.

Social Life, meanwhile, said its founding director Nicola Bacon, works with councils, housing associations and developers to create places. ‘We’re called Social Life because social relationships are what make places tick’, she said. Projects include working with residents at the Aylesbury Estate and at the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, which, far from Ian Sinclair’s description of it as ‘an extermination facility for asylum seekers’ is a home to small businesses and the Latin American community. ‘We’re in danger of ignoring this sort of strength and asset in our city that really does create our social city. If we lose these places we lose a massive amount’, she said.

Finally, Alicia Pivaro, trustee at Architecture sans Frontières, said it was important to help create different models of change, support communities, fight the mindset of short termism and profit and believe that we can do better. ‘To quote Bob the Builder’, she said, ‘the answer is, “yes we can!”’

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ  


Estate Regeneration: How local authorities are responding - 12/11/2014

Thames View East © Tim Crocker
Housing experts from the public and private sectors gathered this week for an extended breakfast talk at NLA, sponsored by Tibbalds, to examine new strategies for forging exemplary estate regeneration schemes.

Executive Director of Housing and Regeneration at Ealing Pat Hayes began by detailing how his local authority had taken more of a developer role in ‘genuinely addressing housing needs across the borough’, often through refurbishing council housing to a high standard and letting it to a mix of tenures. It aims to generate a sense of place, he said, without necessarily knocking estates down in their entirety. Ealing is also setting up its own company to build more private rented product alongside estate regeneration schemes. ‘Councils can lead regeneration’, said Hayes. ‘Forget about the old model and think about the new of borrowing against a general fund and councils doing much more of a varied product than just social housing. We can do estate regeneration in a different way.’ Richard Lavington, Founding Director, Maccreanor Lavington showed a little of how that attitude is playing out on the ground, with the practice’s Acton Gardens scheme an attempt to create as many family units as possible in a wide mix of tenures, with a double-sided street and a terrace of houses backing onto a school.

Westminster City Council’s Head of Major Projects Tristan Samuels said his authority had a slightly different approach given its unique situation and the second highest house price to income ratio in the country at 18:1. Westminster is looking to deliver 800 new homes and 280 jobs in its latest phase, engaging with residents early on HTA-designed schemes like Tollgate Gardens and Ebury Bridge.

Paul Davis + Partners’ Design Partner Pedro Roos had another example to show – One Church Square - some 31 intermediate rented apartments and eight market rented apartments a short walk from Pimlico Station which concentrates on contextual materials including red brick, a sense of community, and sustainability ideas including PV cells and green roofs.

For Jed Young, Regeneration Team Leader, LB Camden, one of the big challenges was working with public budgets in a private market, and he questioned where the European contractors were in all of this. ‘Why aren’t Europeans coming here and helping us do some decent building?’ he asked.

Hilary Satchwell, Director, Tibbalds turned to the Bourne Estate in Holborn, Camden as an interesting example of how teams can work collaboratively and create a successful team even in the light of the ‘reserved acceptance’ of its residents. The project delivers 75 new homes in a sensitive part of central London, working with listed buildings and conservation areas and residents who wanted the new buildings to be part of the estate. ‘The key learning was about making sure the political dimension could be a positive thing here’, said Satchwell. 

Barking & Dagenham Divisional Director of Regeneration Jeremy Grint said his own area was now concerned with creating more mixed communities and has set up special purpose vehicles to improve housing delivery. The authority has delivered 800 units over the last four years and has 400 more in the pipeline by March 2016. The key factor, said Grint, is in ensuring that finance, housing and regeneration departments work closely and collaboratively together with their cabinet members.

Andrew Beharrell, Executive Director, Pollard Thomas Edwards said that practices such as PTE had been set up as a reaction to the disillusionment at housing problems of the past – socially monocultural, isolated estates that fostered high levels of deprivation – with a ‘grand aim to eliminate the divisive stigma associated with council housing’. The practice’s project at Thames View East benefited from an innovative arrangement of private investment to build new council homes. It incorporates a system of streets and courtyards including 150 family houses, and concentrates on simple materials, uniformity, and the creation of ‘aspirational council housing.’

Jestico + Whiles Associate Director Eoin Keating, showed how Grahame Park near Collingdale Station in the borough breaks down a masterplan into smaller phases and chunks, learning lessons from schemes in Barking and Dagenham. It will provide around 430 homes in the first phases, with a total of 3,000 new homes and community facilities over the next 15 years. And finally, Barnet Director for Place Stephen McDonald said that the council’s land holdings are the key to driving development and that the authority is developing some 16,000 homes for rent, shared ownership or private sale over the next 20 years. One of the key challenges beyond things like NIMBYism, he said, was having expertise and capacity in house – something Barnet solved by forming a joint venture with Capita a year ago. ‘It’s meant that a place like Barnet has been able to take on the ambition of having 1600 homes’ he said. 

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly   


Nine Elms on the South Bank - 10/11/2014

© Millar Hare
Effective teamwork and collaboration between local authorities of different political persuasions was the crucial ingredient to set off the transformation of Nine Elms on the South Bank.

That was one of the key sentiments to emerge from a special ‘On Location’ event held by NLA at The Oval Cricket Ground last week.

Cllr Ravi Govindia, Leader, Wandsworth Council, said that what had been impressive was the speed of the transformation of the area, with the debate having gone from ‘when will it happen, to what will it be like’. ‘Two planning authorities working side by side may be unusual, but not here’, said Govindia. ‘I’m hugely enthusiastic about what this area is about to become’. Having ambitions is not the same as delivery, Govindia added, and schemes like Riverlight, now open to its first residents, will be followed by significant neighbourhoods and town centres being created at places like Battersea Power Station, with the whole area linked by a new linear park and catalyzed by the Northern Line Extension. ‘We are leading the way in finding new ways of transforming areas and this is clearly a part of it. People will make it a place to live, work and play’.

Cllr Lib Peck, Leader, Lambeth Council emphasized the importance of placemaking in the vision, and the partnership approach – even with such an unusual alliance’ that has been at the heart of the process. Peck said the authority is committed to 40% affordable housing – despite how difficult this is sometimes with viability tests – and mixed communities, with a ‘huge emphasis’ on job creation, and a goal to transform the Vauxhall gyratory into a place where people want to linger and not just rush through. ‘I’m absolutely convinced that partnership and an emphasis on placemaking is the way to go’, she said.

Helen Fisher, Programme Director, Nine Elms on the Southbank said that one of the exceptional things about Wandsworth and Lambeth was the way that they had worked in planning – ‘absolutely exceptional partnership working’, she branded it. Fisher outlined the unprecedented scale of change happening on the 195ha site, with an investment value of some £15bn and involving 27 schemes with planning permission, three new tube stations, 25,000 new jobs and an estimated growth for London’s economy of £7bn. The vast majority of development will be complete by 2025, while the housing target for the area has risen from 16,000 to 20,000. ‘This is not just about development. This is about creating a new district for London’, she said. Christopher Hall, Director, GVA, said that opportunity area is diverse today but will continue to be a ‘strong and diverse economic location’ in the future, with landmark developments having helped raise the visibility of the area in the public mind, including the US Embassy. ‘This is a central London location in terms of proximity, in terms of travel times’, he said. Richard Garside, Development Director, GL Hearn, detailed some of the other projects in the area, including the 541 units at Embassy Gardens, 698 at Riverlight, and 180 at Vauxhall Sky Gardens, revealing that the sales rate that the area is currently eliciting is some 1000 units per annum. ‘The iconic status of the area has now been established worldwide’, he said. Garside added that careful consideration of delivery strategies on affordable housing may enhance delivery over the wider borough areas – perhaps building more such units in lower value areas. For Sandra Roebuck, Assistant Director for Neighbourhoods and Investment, Lambeth Council, a major focus will be Vauxhall, which will continue to be a place of public transport, post-transformation. But the area is going from ‘flatline to skyline’ in a short space of time, with a number of towers set to be created that will emphasize the need to focus on public realm and the improvement of connections to the river.
Certainly when it comes to tall buildings, plans have been in evidence for some years, aided by flexible frameworks, said Colin Wilson, Strategic Planning Manager, GLA, but London is still primarily a low-rise city. ‘Don’t panic!’ he said, channeling Lance Corporal Jack Jones in TV’s Dad’s Army. ‘We’re not heading for Dubai-on-Thames’. The GLA commissioned a 3D model in order to be open and transparent with local community groups and let them know that ‘scale was coming forward here’, within a broad framework that encourages them to ‘look at things in the round, not just as a painting’. Tall buildings can add to a city’s sense of excitement and energy, however, Wilson added. ‘Part of London’s intrinsic enjoyment, for me, is that it is not a poodle on a leash.’

Discussion of this element included John Bushell, Principal, KPF, who suggested that the linear park could be a clever way of bringing order and that KPF’s work aimed to set circumstances for variation; Gareth Edwards, of SOM, who said it was important to design the skyline from many angles and that spreading out some of the residential towers could improve access to views and light; and Jason Syrett, Director, Allies & Morrison who said that tall buildings – such as the A&M scheme at Keybridge House, could also help orientate the public.

The conference also heard from Pam Alexander, Chair, Covent Garden Market Authority, projecting forward to conjecture how the US Embassy and Battersea Power Station projects acted as catalysts, reinforced by the new market and its 200 new businesses, and how an area of different places had emerged. ‘It is a new part of the world’, said Alexander, not just a new part of London’.  Chris Law, Public Realm and Development Director, Vauxhall One said it was important for the business improvement district to retain the character of the area, or enhance its sense of place, as it hopes to do through the Missing Link urban design competition won by Erect Architecture with J&L Gibbons. Mark Davy, Founder, Futurecity added that the area was one of a new trend in London of creative districts. ‘They’re beginning to understand that placemaking is not delivered by someone else’, he said, ‘It’s being delivered by all of us’. Anchor arts partners like the RCA will only be attracted because they believe it is a credible cultural place, he added. ‘The arts need to be seen as part of the process, not as a sculpture in a square’.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Architecture


What Shape Is Your City? - 5/11/2014

London had the chance to learn from New York, Freiburg and Paris last night as key representatives from each city debated the opportunities and challenges facing their respective home turfs at a special evening debate held at the NLA together with Centre for London.

Carl Weisbrod, Director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chairman at the New York City Planning Commission began by saying that his city was highly resilient and entrepreneurial, having been founded on business principles. And today New York is in the ‘very peak of health’, said Weisbrod, adding some 95,000 new jobs in the last year, in a ‘vibrant and diverse economy’ that is also a global centre for culture. However, the economy is facing serious challenges, especially concerning ‘an inequality of poverty that pervades the city’, where 20 per cent of its citizens earn under $24,000 a year and ageing infrastructure would require $47billion dollars just to bring it up to scratch, without addressing its future needs. In that anticipation of future needs, London is far outstripping New York, he said. Weisbrod said that his city is facing quality of life challengers from others across the world, which is important in the battle for talent, and the cost of setting up business in New York is very high. Like London, New York is also facing steep population rises, with 600,000 more to arrive within the next 25 years, and 400,000 extra having come in the last four. ‘We’re not producing enough housing’, said Weisbrod. ‘It’s a refrain you hear around the world.’

Demand is twice as large as supply, so the mayor has charged Weisbrod’s department to come up with an ambitious housing plan to address such a serious problem, chiefly by creating greater density in some neighbourhoods. The goal is to create 200,000 units – either new build or ‘preserved’ – over the next 10 years, with a policy to do this in a ‘ground-up’ way, albeit often encountering difficulty in persuading neighbourhoods to accept density. It is also committed to introducing mandatory affordable housing as a percentage of developments, varying in different neighbourhoods – a radical policy change for the city.

Discussion of these themes began with an address from Wulf Daseking, Former Director of City Planning, Freiburg, who emphasized the need above all to have an influence on the ground price when it comes to providing housing. ‘We participated in the Wolfson Prize’, he said. ‘The point was you have to find a way to freeze the ground price so you can find the way out of your social problems’. Integration was the way forward, he added, not segregation.

Cécile Brisac, Founder, Brisac Gonzalez, said that inner Paris has begun to grow again and was trying to densify, with 10,000 housing units – either new or reclaimed from office space – the goal. Another target for the city is to increase social housing provision from 23-30%, even if the plan to build more of such housing in some of the wealthier areas of the city was ‘not going down very well.’ Paris is also looking to build more over railways or on brownfield land, without losing 1m2 of green space. ‘That means basically going up’, said Brisac. Tall buildings are being discussed on a case-by-case basis but have to be ‘exemplary’, said Brisac.

Stewart Murray, Assistant Director - Planning, GLA provided the home view. A report due out shortly will confirm that London’s population will grow from 8.4 million to 10.1 million by 2036, he said, and potentially from 10-12 or even 13 million by 2050 unless we do something drastically different. The city has an ‘unprecendented housing challenge’, which is being attacked by creating housing zones – 25 bids are in to deliver 55,000 homes. The target is as much as 50,000 homes per year, but London is delivering only 24,000. ‘We have to double output’, said Murray. ‘We are at a turning point. We do think there is good news coming out, but we need another step change if we’re to double housing output.’

Finally, Charles Leadbeater, Associate, Centre for London, said it was a question of perspective. New York looks in the peak of health if comparing it to the city in the 1970s or 1980s but it was a ‘dysfunctional kind of health’, he suggested. ‘There’s something dysfunctional about the way it generates growth’, he said. ‘The cost is inequality. The big question is: can you get fair growth?’ We have all known that cities have deep pockets of inequality, he added. The new story is the sheer spread of people who are working incredibly hard and have virtually nothing to show for it. ‘The crisis is not of poverty but the loss of the story of hope for cities’, he said.

Leadbeater suggested three things: the creation of social improvement districts, a health service which becomes a public agency for housing and a London land fund.

Perhaps another answer, said former Chairman of the City’s Policy and Resources Committee Judith Mayhew from the audience, was to create a kind of public land bank, remediate brownfield land and provide public infrastructure, especially to the east. ‘We have to be creative and think differently’, she said.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly 

** If you missed the event you can watch Carl Weisbrod's presentation here and the following panel discussion here.


Meeting of the New London Sounding Board - 30/10/2014

Sounding Board - Agnese Sanvito
Sounding Board

The latest meeting of the New London Sounding Board grappled with subjects as diverse as London’s relationship with the wider south-east; regeneration; and what was branded part of government’s strategy to ‘dismantle the planning system’ via permitted development rights.

Topic 1: London’s relationship with the wider South East

CABE chair Pam Alexander kicked off with a plea to get the capital to look outside its borders to deliver a better quality of life for all in the south-east, and to try and fill a gap in strategic planning lost when regional planning was ended. Perhaps, she suggested, an England plan was necessary, or at least an approach to strategic planning that is not imposed from the top-down. It was important to keep an eye on investment in transport corridors, said Peter Eversden, chairman, London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies, with strategic thinking needed to build local jobs. Sounding board chairman Michael Cassidy said London mayor Boris Johnson has an ambition to host an Expo in 2025 in London, but that after Ebbsfleet, Old Oak Common and Barking Riverside, there were no sites left or mechanisms in place to help the process. The residential opportunity in Kent is one which should be a natural for London, he added, but has not started yet, nor is there the process to adjust to the new market place of a London bursting at the seams. The duty to cooperate is not up to the task we face, said CBRE executive Stuart Robinson, and it seems ‘ludicrous’ that the way we need to integrate regions is through infrastructure, which is reliant on a slow parliamentary process. HS2 is a case in point, he added, which although it has got over its initial poor messaging to be perceived more as about capacity than high speed, will still be held up by three years through the parliamentary petitioning process.  One of the best – though much-maligned – places for job growth is Milton Keynes, said Pat Hayes, executive director of regeneration and housing at Ealing. But it was important to have a conversation about further New Towns, he said, armed with some of the lessons of the less successful ones such as Harlow. Yet getting the pricing of infrastructure and travel right is key. ‘Not everyone wants to live where they work’.

Topic 2: Regeneration – what is the industry doing to make lives better in London?

Strategic advisor Clive Dutton introduced the next topic around regeneration and what the industry is doing to make our lives better. At the macro- scale this could be a national economic plan for the UK, without which ‘picture on the jigsaw puzzle box’ Dutton believes it is impossible to talk about infrastructure, allied to ‘softer’ issues like quality of life or happiness. We never talk about the unheard people of London, added Dutton – the 1/3 of the population who are in poverty, 50% of whom are in working households, or the 600,000 people who are paid below the working wage. And lastly, Dutton raised the problem of public conveniences – or lack of them. ‘We’ve had decades of closures’, said Dutton, with 25% of facilities having closed since 2010 and 11 cities in the UK having precisely no public WCs. ‘What is the role of the local authority if it is not meeting basic human needs? How can we possibly talk about being a smart city?’ Rosemarie MacQueen, now a consultant but previously at Westminster City Council, said there was no legal requirement to provide lavatories but the current atmosphere in local authorities was that even the ‘need-to-dos’ were being analysed to see if councils could get away with avoiding them in order to make short-term savings. ‘There will be at least another five years of starvation’, she warned. HTA partner Ben Derbyshire suggested that the NLA runs a competition to design a PPP – a ‘Private Portable Pissoir’, but also that on planning there could be scope for a private-sector sponsored plan. Certainly the onus on the private sector is shifting. London Communications Agency’s executive chairman Robert Gordon Clark said that in the last three years the public meetings he has attended on major schemes have got ‘rougher’ on the developers to meet the gap of what is not being provided by the state. ‘I’ve definitely noticed a shift’, he said. ‘As less and less cash is provided by the state the developer is seen more and more as the cash cow.’ Hayes suggested that the real reason that planning applications are more fraught is the house price situation and a ‘two-speed economy’ – London and the rest of the UK was fast emerging because we have no regional policy. Could we move the capital city somewhere else, with all the government jobs that entails? The danger, if Little Englanderism takes hold, is to see ‘London unravelling’. Lambeth’s Strategic Director for Delivery, Sue Foster agreed that this period of austerity had led authorities to focus clearly on their priorities for spending, especially faced with cuts to budgets of as much as 40%. One of the solutions was to use a more innovative approach concerned with growth and investment, with a much more ‘creative’ conversation with investors. And, said Robinson, the biggest commodity authorities are sitting on is land. Councils thus need to develop investment vehicles and lever in available funds – mirroring what the landed estates have done for so long.

Topic 3: Permitted development rights

The final topic was permitted development (PD) rights, introduced by Rosemarie MacQueen, who revealed the negative picture from responses to the moves so far from across England, not least on how it had affected affordable housing, where some 3000 units have been lost as a result of the policy. Also at risk were the office rentals at the lower end – the local authorities were ‘not happy’, but Nick Boles thinks it is a ‘fantastic solution’ that should be put in place permanently. Another issue was with the retail to resi element – where retail can sit quite happily alongside nightclubs and the like, residential is a less amenable bedfellow. Whilst there is an upside, said David Reay, development director at Lend Lease, insofar as some projects would never have got underway without PD because they were too much of a market risk, there was the potential, said Publica director Lucy Musgrave for a resultant ‘huge monoculture’ developing outside of the Central Activities Zone. ‘We don’t need this absence of diversity’, she said. Architects too, are facing a threat by this PD move, said Ben Derbyshire, since they tend to occupy spaces at around the £25-£50/sq ft level. And neither are the exemption areas to PD safe. Michael Lowndes, executive director of Turley Associates said that it was ‘absolutely clear’ from his meetings with the DCLG that these exemptions will be taken away, with potentially ‘disproportionate’ problems arising from this crude policy. ‘Going from A to C-classes will be like going from chicken shops to rabbit hutches’ he warned. ‘We will have streets of really poor housing’. Some of that poor quality housing has already been refused at planning, but is coming back under the new rules, said Foster. It is all, said Igloo chief executive Chris Bown, ‘part of a much bigger strategy to dismantle the planning system.’ ‘It is a direction of travel that the government is on’, said Brown. ‘For those that think the planning system brings benefits, you may have to draw the line.’

Write up by David Taylor, Editor, NLQ


How do we deliver smarter districts for London? - 30/10/2014

Over the last six months, NLA have worked with research partners at UCL – the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) – to explore how smarter strategies can improve the way we design, plan for and manage London.

A special NLA Think Tank held on 22 October and sponsored by Arup, Parsons Brinckerhoff and the Crown Estate, brought together key built environment stakeholders to focus specifically on how we deliver smarter districts for London. How can the built environment industry work with smarter technology providers to deliver smart city projects? How can the industry keep up with innovation and speed of change? How can we ensure the timelines of construction projects keep up with the speed of technological change? How do we integrate different levels of smart technology in regeneration projects in London?

The backdrop to the discussion was a YouTube video encapsulating some of the massive information technology agents for change affecting our city and those across the world -

This is self-evidently a complex and far-reaching subject, requiring fewer silos and more joined-up thinking and collaboration across the industry. But the group agreed that on every level – sociological, political, technological and environmental – we need to question where we are and our role within the new, Smarter London. How successful it will be will depend on London’s ability to capitalise on the serious recognition which now pervades the city that we must invest in both its ageing and new infrastructure if the advantages of a smarter city are to be grasped.

The Think Tank, conducted under Chatham House Rules, explored three main topics, as they applied to buildings, infrastructure and engagement.

The main findings were:  
•            We are living in ‘exponential times’, where the pace of IT is affecting every sector of society
•            Smart organisations are tapping into a younger generation and pool of creative talent whose members are experimenting with new technology
•            Smart employers are increasingly understanding what attracts and retains these ‘smart’ employees
•            In planning, building use classifications appear archaic and need questioning in the era of blurred boundaries between work and play, for example
•            Data centres and other tech infrastructure are to today what the pumping centres were to the Victorians, but should be similarly celebrated and better integrated into the urban fabric
•            Buildings should have flexibility in mind in order to adapt and cope with technological influences and use changes over their lifetimes
•            Parametric design will herald a sea-change in creating buildings with a balance between value, flexibility, cost, and other variables
•            Building forms do not necessarily have to become more complex, however – and along with high tech companies inhabiting older buildings, there is a simultaneous drive towards more ‘authentic experiences’ such as provenance-driven food, wild swimming, real coffee etc.
•            We should move away from looking at single buildings through BIM etc and plan at a wider scale, which requires data sharing
•            On infrastructure, we have to stop asking ‘what will it cost?’ and instead ask: ‘what will happen if we don’t do it?’
•            Wikihouse – the open source construction kit – begins to suggest a new way of creating homes that is within the grasp of everybody
•            Smarter cities should think in terms of ‘wouldn’t it be great if’ rather than aiming to solve problems it cannot, like issues over health or crime
•            Construction has a lot to learn from control systems in other sectors which rely on data and sensors – monitoring and maintenance systems

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ  


Construction industry response to London Infrastructure Plan 2050 consultation - 28/10/2014

© Agnese Sanvito
London should adopt the approach it took to deliver the infrastructure for the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 as it considers the housing, transport and energy challenges it faces arising from steep population growth. But it must also start to grapple with the thorny prospect of altering the Green Belt and form better alliances with the rest of the UK, even if it pushes through fiscal devolution to help fund those infrastructural needs.

Those were some one of the main points to emerge from a special breakfast event at the NLA to debate the construction industry’s response to the London infrastructure plan 2050 last week. 

In the run up to the end of the consultation period on 31 October,Jeremy Skinner, Senior Manager for Growth and Enterprise, GLA, began proceedings by claiming that London’s infrastructure was not in line with the capital’s global position and that perhaps fiscal devolution – ‘all the rage at the minute’ – would allow it to better invest in growth.

There was a need, he said, for more sustainable urban drainage, capturing more rainwater and reducing the flow through our sewers, which in some development areas was proving a brake on construction. Energy issues, moreover, face three key objectives: over security of supply, affordability and the reduction of CO2. But Skinner said it had not yet been tested how much improving digital connectivity actually also creates more of a demand for transport and ‘crucial’ face-to-face communication.

Skinner revealed he had had early discussions with mayor Boris Johnson on the Green Belt and that, although he is adamant it must be protected, it may be an issue for a future mayor. Similarly, Skinner said his department had started to think and have conversations with colleagues outside London about how the growth of the city may be distributed more widely. Meanwhile, a new delivery group which meets for the first time on November 5 will seek to attend to the infrastructure London needs and driving out costs by connecting chief executives with politicians and sub-contractors. ‘It’s amazing that has hasn’t happened yet, given the lessons of the Olympics’, said Skinner. ‘That is precisely the level of management and planning that is vital to achieve brilliant things’.

The infrastructure plan is merely a contribution to a debate about how we invest, plan and prepare for growth to create a city that is tolerant and civilized, added Skinner. ‘We have a period of the next two or three years to get our policies right to prepare for that growth.’

Alexander Jan, director at Arup, said that in a sense it was more about how politically viable the report’s recommendations are, especially given that the proportion of publicly sponsored investment as a share of national income has fallen from 11% in the 60s to 2.5% projected by the end of the current government. Steep population growth to over 10million will mean that the outer boroughs may see a lot of growth, despite being no fans of development, while meeting demands for 50,000 homes a year will be a ‘step change, amid a funding gap of some £122bn on housing and transport. Getting the funding for that would take us into ‘fiscal devolution territory’, said Jan, but property taxes could raise £80bn over 20 years with a 2.5% rise. ‘If we’re going to do all of this stuff it will need an Olympic-style effort to make it happen’, he said. ‘It needs a more concerted approach…and the mayor and boroughs will need more powers’.

Dr Peter Bonfield, CEO, BRE Group said that what he had learned from working on the Olympic Games was that, despite having a ‘pretty poor’ track record in delivering infrastructure projects, we could achieve a project that was early, below budget, meets all our green targets and with a good safety record’ if the right open, learning culture was put in place. The keys going forward include reducing demand – at the Olympics, all the buildings were designed to be 50% more efficient than current buildings and used 40% less water – being ‘really scared’ about climate change; and being resilient to people, with a population that will be 50% over 65 by 2060.

The conference also heard from Sue Kershaw, Director of Rail for Europe, CH2M Hill and panel member, Mayor’s Infrastructure Advisory Group, who called the report a ‘roadmap’ for London’s future, sentiments echoed by Rob Naybour, Founding Partner, Weston Williamson, whose firm is working on a station the size of Waterloo at Old Oak Common and believes more linkages should be fostered with northern cities. ‘It’s hugely positive, but it is only a start, really’, he said of the infrastructure report.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly   


London's education estate - schools, colleges and universities in the capital - 17/10/2014

© Simon Kennedy
London’s education estate – the capital’s schools, colleges and universities – are taking steps to try and better integrate with the rest of the urban fabric, allowing the public in to share more of its facilities and expertise.

That was one of the key principles to emerge from a half-day conference at the NLA, sponsored by ArchitecturePLB and chaired by Professor Philip Ogden of Queen Mary University, that looked at how each sector is responding to the challenges of population growth and a city that must keep improving its liveability if its education institutions are to stay at the top of the world’s tables.

ArchitecturePLB director Rachel Shaw said that London’s education estates should move from being distinct and separate estates across the capital to overlapping ones, blurring the boundaries of the campus in the city. But where school education used to be about preparing people for the workplace, it was now about developing their skills for lifelong learning and the reskilling they will periodically need to do. Developers, moreover, are wiling to step into the student residences market, but there is a backlash there too, albeit where building has slowed because local communities recognise that students aren’t always the best neighbours and boroughs are identifying the ‘studentification’ of areas. Shaw said that many of the universities the practice works with have better engagement with the public as part their corporate strategy. ‘Perhaps it starts to be about blurring the boundaries of the campus and the city, inviting them in’, she said.

Mairi Johnson, Global Education Sector Leader, AECOM said that cuts to budgets across the board and the rising difficulty of attracting the private sector meant that we will need a ‘radical rethink in how we deliver public services.’ But in an age in which young people are learning differently, designers need to be very much part of the solution.

UCL Estates director Andrew Grainger said his institution had grown substantially to the point where it now has some 30,000 students, 10,000 staff and a turnover in excess of £1bn. It can also boast a large estate that has an insurance replacement cost of some £1billion. UCL is now trying to fix the legacy of the past and problems of the present, adopting a new 20-year strategy whose main theme is to improve the student experience. Expenditure to this end for this year alone is over £140m and will rise to some £500m over five years. It is also looking to the east with UCL East in Stratford and will be both working with partners more and borrowing more in future to fill the gaps left by funding shortfalls.

In Croydon, the picture was more to do with school places, the borough’s north team leader, development manager Nicola Townsend painting a picture of addressing the needs in part by using more pre-application discussions on projects.

Discussion raised points including a note on a rise in NIMBYism towards student accommodation in some areas, although less so in the east, where regeneration benefits and the stimulation of a daytime economy were more appreciated; the rise in importance of research in maintaining international visibility and credibility, even the need to start talking about ‘Loxbridge’ – including London in the field of excellence in this area.

The conference also heard from Nicholas Hare Architects partner Jayne Bird, who emphasized the need to provide more ‘social spaces’, including encouraging interactions in HE buildings on staircases and elsewhere and creating pausing places and other interaction spaces in schools. ‘Let’s not let these guys down and make sure they’re prepared for the world of work with different settings and more of a concentration on social interaction’, she said.

HawkinsBrown partner Oliver Milton described the ‘refreshing’ approach Southwark is taking to its procurement of schools in the borough – a kind of ‘bespoke standardisation’ rather than one-size-fits all, encouraging reuse, involving the schools themselves and recognizing that each is different.

King’s College director of space management and facilities advisor Ian Caldwell said his institution has five campuses and is growing by another 3,000 students over the next three years, and that collaborations on projects such as Med City or the Francis Crick Institute are becoming more important. It is also becoming more necessary to be more open, through projects like its Science Gallery International, aimed at getting more 15-25 year olds through the doors. Similarly UCL is trying to open up its King’s College campus with a new two-storey student-focused learning commons with access for the public, and is anticipating greater connections if and when the Garden Bridge opens, connecting campuses together. The Mulberry site at Canada Water is another opportunity, where King’s is developing 770 new student rooms, office space, affordable housing, retail units, a health care centre and landscaped public space.  ‘King’s does not believe in creating a gated community so we have had to persuade planners we want to be part of the urban grain and connect in with the local community’, said Caldwell. They are called Univer-‘cities’, after all, he added.

Finally, Savills’ commercial research director Mat Oakley said one of the biggest areas of growth was in regional universities looking to set up in London – up 4000% - with institutions like Warwick, UEA and Sunderland all taking the plunge. Education has been more active in property than banks in recent years, and London offers students safety, multiculturalism and the opportunities to get part-time jobs, so Savills believes more foreign universities will also take space in London. Oakley’s top pick, however, would be the opportunities for education in the Vauxhall Nine Elms area, though institutions should think about excess government space, new submarkets and JVs with infrastructure- loving global investors.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly


Smarter London Exhibition Opening - 9/10/2014

© Agnese Sanvito© Agnese Sanvito© Agnese Sanvito © Agnese Sanvito© Agnese Sanvito
Hundreds of architects, planners and smart technology boffins packed into New London Architecture (NLA) last night for the opening of a new exhibition exploring ‘Smarter London’. The show explores how data, technology and analytics are changing the way we design, build and manage the city. It was opened by Bill Hillier of Space Syntax, who said that London was a smart city not just in technological terms but in terms of the way that it is put together.

‘When I was young, London was regarded as a mess, chaotic, it had no order to it’, he said. ‘It needed to be tidied up into a set of neatly defined neighbourhood units, separated by main roads.’ But Space Syntax’s modelling work over the years inside the M25 on streets, networks and areas like Trafalgar Square and the South Bank had revealed that London is not a mess at all but ‘a subtle and delicate structure’. Street structures themselves, Hillier added, created movement patterns and London has hundreds, perhaps thousands of centres. ‘Movement is the heart of place and it is movement that creates place’, he said.

As London’s population grows to more than 10 million people over the next decade, the host of complex tasks the city has to deliver requires more innovative solutions. ‘Smarter London’ uncovers a host of exciting smart projects taking place in London and examines the role of data in the development of a single building or even large-scale city-wide infrastructure projects such as Crossrail to the new role that gaming plays in community consultation projects. ‘Smarter London’ also explores what the capital might look like in the future.

Visitors to the exhibition can explore a virtual London from an entirely new perspective. Exhibits include the Pigeon Sim – which uses gesture control to swoop and soar high over the city or a model of London that shows real-time data on the state of the Capital, featuring aircraft positions, Barclays Cycle Hire status, the height of the Thames and traffic information.

Curator and NLA chairman Peter Murray said: “The world of smart cities is increasingly crowded and complex. The exhibition and Insight Study provide an insight into the impact on London's planning of this fast changing field from individual fitness monitors to city-wide transport systems.”

The exhibition is the result of a six month NLA Insight Study, carried out with research partners The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), University College London. It is hosted at The Building Centre from 9 October to 18 December, and is supported by a programme of NLA talks and debates.

@nlalondon #smarterLDN

‘Smarter London: How digital technologies are shaping the capital’ is supported by:
Programme sponsors: Arup, Parsons Brinckerhoff, The Crown Estate;
Sponsors – Derwent London, Lend Lease, Ramboll;
Associate sponsors: Bloom Worldwide, Great Portland Estates, Grosvenor, Inmidtown, Museum of London Archeology (MOLA); Supporters: Croydon Council


News release, 3 October 2014 ‘How are digital technologies shaping the capital?’ asks Smarter London exhibition at NLA - 8/10/2014

© Eric Fischer
A free New London Architecture (NLA) exhibition exploring ‘Smarter London’ opens on Thursday 9.

October at NLA’s galleries in The Building Centre, WC1. The show explores how data, technology and analytics are changing the way we design, build and manage the city.

As London’s population grows to more than 10 million people within the next decade, the host of complex tasks it has to deliver requires more innovative solutions. ‘Smarter London’ uncovers a host of exciting smart projects taking place in London and examines the role of data in the development of a single building or even large-scale city-wide infrastructure projects such as Crossrail to the new role that gaming plays in community consultation projects. ‘Smarter London’ also explores what the capital might look like in the future.

Visitors to the exhibition can explore a virtual London from an entirely new perspective with exhibits such as the Pigeon Sim – which uses gesture control to swoop and soar high over the city or a model of London that shows real-time data on the state of the Capital, featuring aircraft positions, Barclays Cycle Hire status, the height of the Thames and traffic information.

Curator and NLA chairman Peter Murray said: “The world of smart cities in increasingly crowded and complex. The exhibition and Insight Study provide an insight into the impact on London's planning of this fast changing field from individual fitness monitors to city-wide transport systems.

The exhibition is the result of a six month NLA Insight Study, carried out with research partners The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), University College London. It is hosted at The Building Centre from 9 October to 18 December, and is supported by a programme of NLA talks and debates. @nlalondon #smarterLDN   
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