What's going on across London? Guest Editor, London Architecture Diary - Patrick Michell

Thursday 31 March 2016

Spring has sprung, the evenings are getting lighter and the weather seems to be getting a little warmer. With that in mind there is no better way to begin exploring London’s architectural offerings this month than by foot and in particular, Open City’s walking tour of the Lansbury Estate.

Built as a living architecture exhibit for the 1951 Festival of Britain, the Lansbury Estate allowed visitors to experience modern architecture on a real scale whilst rebuilding one of London’s most badly bombed sites. The philosophy of the design was that new development should comprise of neighbourhoods, and that within the neighbourhood should be all that a community required; flats, houses, churches, schools, an old people’s home, a shopping centre and covered market. Finishing at the foot of Erno’s Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower, the tour reflects on contrasting examples of state planning to provide homes for people assessing examples of London’s current approach in meeting the City’s housing needs and the idea of ‘neighbourhood and community’ as a focus for renewal and regeneration. 

Similar topics are explored elsewhere this month with sociologist Richard Sennett and artist David Cotterrell exploring the potential of multiple and nuanced narratives with urban environments at the Royal Academy’s first in a series of ‘relay dialogues’. Following on from his 2013 polemic ‘The Open City’, Sennett states that all too often cities and the urban environment we inhabit are designed for people of a relatively homogenous class, existence and ethnicity with many becoming places of increased segregation. Sennett and Cotterrell will discuss whether the existing social, political and economic models are adequate, what role might artists play in creating more complex and nuanced narratives of the world around us and how this might inform design.

Should you be more anarchic in your outlook of high-rise living, Ben Wheatley’s recently released adaptation of JG Ballard’s High Rise offers a post-apocalyptic, dystopian view of modernity that should please. 

Over the last few years, our practice Platform 5 Architects has been working on larger scale projects and the above choices (post-apocalyptic, dystopian film aside) reflect our preoccupation with housing, place making and the city, and form some of the most pressing issues facing us as a society today. ‘Beyond the Green Belt’ at The Building Centre explores the many voices and opinions that are shaping the debate around the Green Belt with talks ‘How do we build on the green belt’ and ‘Is the green belt a luxury we can’t afford’ promising to explore whether the Green Belt can help to meet housing and development pressures whilst becoming a richer and more cherished green space.

On a lighter note, I do enjoy a good boat trip and even organised one for my wedding day, taking in the sights from the National Theatre and cruising out east to Trinity Buoy Wharf where we had a big party in a warehouse. Departing from across the river at Greenwich Pier, Open City have organised a boat tour “Architecture on the Thames East” which travels out towards the Dartford Crossing. Around here the landscape changes and the Thames takes on a wild feel that reminds you London is not so far from the sea.

Finally, make sure to visit ‘Creation From Catastrophe’ at the RIBA before it closes later this month; a varied collection of projects including Christopher Wren’s proposed boulevard plans of a reimagined post-fire London and Shigeru Ban’s modular shelters for the recent Nepal earthquake victims.


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