London: designing the world

Thursday 8 June 2017

©Virgile Simon Bertrand

A special Pecha Kucha celebrating London’s strength in design this week showed how the UK capital continues to export its rich array of built environment talent and expertise to the world.

Arranged as part of Vision London 2017, and in line with the major new NLA Insight Study, London: Design Capital, the event aimed to showcase the innovations, technologies and projects that are currently being developed for international projects.

Introduced by London: Design Capital independent researcher Sarah Yates, Allies and Morrison partner Simon Gathercole showed how the practice’s masterplan for Doha, Qatar, whose first phase is set to open next year, was unusual in the area for being part of downtown regeneration. Designed in London with Arup, the masterplan aims to marry a traditional feel with a ‘contemporary architectural sensibility’, said Gathercole. ‘That’s where London design and a Gulf vision responded in a very interesting way.’

Over in Jeddah and Istanbul, said AECOM director Tom Venables, a lot of the work the practice has done there has drawn on things like the London Olympic park. In Jeddah its work was driven by catastrophic floods and steep rises in population, or in Istanbul responding to earthquake risk and population growth again, where it used data and GIS information, arguing that industry should be retained in the city, and London-style opportunity areas. But communicating this plan was best done simply, with people, pens and tracing paper: ‘whilst there are all these new tools out there, you can’t beat human interaction.’

In North America, principal of Elementa Consulting + Integral Group Benjamin Galuza presented the Net Zero Office Building in San Francisco, where, as with London, passive ventilation is possible for 89% of the year. The site was difficult, being boxed in on three sides, but it was important to remember that for zero energy buildings ‘the architecture does the heavy lifting’, said Galuza. It is now bringing this expertise back to London with work on a zero-carbon primary school, he added, and now is a ‘tremendous opportunity for London to leapfrog everything that has been going on in north America for the last five years.’

Project architect at BDP and member of NLA’s NextGen programme Joaquin Monge showed a masterplan in Acapulco to provide ‘liveable and secure places’, ‘pavilions in the landscape’ plus a convention centre in the city that is an iconic gateway to the beach, while Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners senior associate Paul Thompson took the audience through the practice’s International Towers project in Sydney. The practice created a carbon neutral, water-positive, human-scaled masterplan for the area including three tower ‘siblings’ with differently coloured fins, plus connections, gateways and markers, working it up for a year with key members of the team and avoiding a ‘zoo’ of architecture with other architects working on residential and other elements. ‘Hosting them in London was key’, said Thompson. ‘Getting them away from their comfort zones.’

Finally, Farrells managing partner Laura Mazzeo showed the Kennedy Town Swimming Pool and metro on the western side of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, which needed to be a place where users could enjoy views without blocking those of tower residents nearby. ‘So we came up with the idea of a spaceship’, said Mazzeo of the design, citing the practice’s idea of putting leisure centres at the heart of communities that runs back to Swiss Cottage in London. ‘There is a win-win story about being quite creative in repurposing and re-provisioning facilities to enable transport that in return creates better outcomes for the community’, said Mazzeo.

David Taylor

Editor, New London Quarterly 
@davidntaylor

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