What's going on across London? Guest Editor, London Architecture Diary - Jude Kelly

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Powerful and majestic, the four chimneys of Battersea Power Station have dominated the Chelsea river and skyline for all the years I've known London. Suddenly I look up and three of them are missing.

But this is no act of fundamentalist barbarity; our past is being preserved meticulously by the company now restoring this industrial palace as part of the very long awaited site development scheme. The towers have gone to be returned to former glory and will reappear in full majesty. It's an architectural exhibition in full view and real time. Go and see it now for a full 'before and after' experience. 

Back on my own patch at Southbank Centre we have two of the best Brutalist buildings - Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery - also closed for restoration for two years. But during March we have daily architectural tours of the Royal Festival Hall which formed the centrepiece of the Festival of Britain in 1951. You will be taken to see the many wonderful features of the modernist "People's Palace" including the extraordinary boiler rooms that also provided the setting for the original Dr Who filming. 

It might be clear by now that I'm intrigued by large gestures and bold visions. I'm writing this from China where I'm visiting some of the hundreds of extraordinary arts complexes that have been built in the last few years here, and there's more under construction. Yesterday I was exploring Guangzhou Opera House created by Zaha Hadid in 2010. It's a brilliantly sensual fearless design and one of many reasons why she deserved the 2016 Royal Gold Medal. In honour of that award, RIBA are currently showing models, photographs and prints from many of her designs including two still under construction - Beijing’s new airport and Miami's 1000 Museums, a Residential Tower.

Another terrific woman who's added to the architectural landscape is Julia Peyton-Jones through her dedication to the Serpentine temporary pavilion project which year after year has championed new and provoking ideas for us to consider. She has just revealed two things - she's stepping down after an amazing tenure but not before revealing that this year’s architect is the Danish Bjarke Ingels Group. And you can see his ideas in development on their website while you await the full form version. 

At the WOW Woman of the World festival, come and listen to a fascinating discussion - Toilets are a Feminist Issue, with the grand doyenne of public amenities Professor Clara Greed. From women being forced to queue, to lack of toilet facilities in the developing world having a devastating effect on women's safety and girls’ education, what can toilet provision tell us about gender equality and what should architects and planners do in response? Sounds a small subject, but turns out to be a huge issue in many countries across the globe. 

Finally, the Ecobuild Exhibition and Conference at Excel is jammed with all the subjects that we need to consider for imaginative sustainable ways of living. Digital building, community cooperatives, materials and philosophies will all be on display plus some of the frontier men and women who've led the debate for years and now are being listened to and followed as the world struggles to combine progress, equity and environmental balance. It's a very stimulating impactful agenda, for specialist and lay people alike.

And finally, go to the Design Museum's Design of the Year. All design influences all forms. It's futuristic and at times fantastical and very exciting.


Jude Kelly, Artistic Director, Southbank Centre

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