London Festival of Architecture: buildings and identity

by Dave Hill

The 2018 London Festival of Architecture, which runs for the whole of June, formally opened on Friday evening with a party in the roof garden of 120 Fenchurch Street (pictured above), a 15-storey Square Mile building for which planning consent was granted in 2008, although construction did not begin until a main tenant was secured six years later. Public access to the roof garden is promised and a restaurant will open on the 14th floor next spring.

A quick scroll through the project’s history and still-unfolding plans provides an insight into the complexities of putting such a pile together, both financial and architectural. You can see a long way from up there – Canary Wharf climbs into your eyeline on the horizon – and also feel as though you’re within touching distance of the Gherkin, which, it is easy to forget, has now been standing for 15 years.

How do London’s buildings come into being, whether cathedrals of commerce, monuments to civic values or homes of different tenures and types? Where does architecture fit in to the long and complicated processes that decide what sorts of building appear in the cluttered capital, and when and where?

Before going to the party, I attended one of the Festival’s opening day events, an informal “open studio” walk-and-talk though the London office of design consultancy CallisonRTKL, which are just south of Holborn Viaduct. There, thanks principally to a very patient man called Richard, I was able to ask a lot of questions and acquire a better understanding of the design of buildings in London (and elsewhere) and the changing nature of the challenges involved in doing that job well.

Other practices are scheduled to take part in the Open Studio programme on the remaining Fridays of the Festival, organised by geographical cluster: Fitzrovia on 8th; Cambridge Heath on 15th; Shepherd’s Bush on 22nd; Kentish Town on 29th. And the Festival offers a lot more to enjoy as well.

I’ve made my own small contribution to the Festival in the form of a short essay for the organisers, addressing its central theme of this year – identity. The piece has already been published by Prospect Magazine. It starts like this:

London’s buildings tell compelling stories of the capital’s identity, not because they express some fixed essence of the city but because they reflect its lack of one. Like London, their variations are infinite and changing endlessly. Like London, they are both ancient and new, loved and loathed, dazzling and dreadful, stupid and stupendous, and often all of those things in the same street.

Read the rest here.

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