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London Calling: The Latest Architecture and News

London Calling: On Fondness

09:30 - 18 December, 2014
London Calling: On Fondness, After the local council announced their plans to demolish the iconic Preston Bus Station in favour of a new building elsewhere, it took a national backlash before the building was eventually saved, being listed in September 2013. Image © Wikimedia Commons
After the local council announced their plans to demolish the iconic Preston Bus Station in favour of a new building elsewhere, it took a national backlash before the building was eventually saved, being listed in September 2013. Image © Wikimedia Commons

In the UK, the commissioning of buildings is in crisis. The government and the industry as a whole is short-sighted, putting too much emphasis on function and too little thought into what makes for a long-lasting, and in that respect sustainable, building.

What is it that prompts a person to own a classic car or a family to continue to use old silver when both involve so much hard work? Why not buy a new car or use stainless steel cutlery? By convention these possessions have reached the end of their natural life, they require careful maintenance and in many cases they don’t function as well they might - they are obsolete. Their continued use requires a conscious commitment - time and money - on the part of their owner. But then, in time, this responsibility stops being a burden and instead becomes a cause for satisfaction and enjoyment.

It is a question that could be asked of those who commission and use buildings.

London Calling: British Modernism's Watershed Moment - The Churchill College Competition

01:00 - 30 June, 2014
London Calling: British Modernism's Watershed Moment - The Churchill College Competition, Courtesy of Churchill College
Courtesy of Churchill College

Fifty years ago Churchill College Cambridge opened its doors. In contrast to the historic Colleges, with their medieval Gothic and Neo-Classical buildings corralled behind high walls, this was in an almost rural setting on the outskirts of the city, modern in design, and Brutalist in detail.

The 1959 competition that brought the College into being is considered by many to be a watershed moment in British Post War architectural history. It brought together 20 names, young and old, all practicing in Britain, all working in the Modernist and more specifically the nascent Brutalist style. It was a “who’s who” of British architecture at the time, including the Smithsons, Hungarian-born Erno Goldfinger, Lasdun (then in partnership with Maxwell Fry, Jane Drew & Lindsay Drake, and formerly with Russian émigré Lubetkin), Lyons Israel Ellis and Robert Matthew (one half of the Royal Festival Hall team, who teamed up with Johnson Marshall). None of these made the shortlist of four.

Proposal: Stirling & Gowan. Image Courtesy of James Gowan and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, via e-architect Proposal: Richard Sheppard, Robson & Partners. Image Courtesy of Sheppard Robson, via e-architect Proposal: Chamberlin, Powell & Bon. Image Courtesy of Frank Woods, via e-architect The library from Stirling and Gowan’s entry to the Churchill College, Cambridge competition (1958). Image Courtesy of BD Online + 19

London Calling: The 'Practical' Architect

01:00 - 11 February, 2014
London Calling: The 'Practical' Architect, Thomas Heatherwick and Arup's plans for a new, 367-meter long ‘Garden Bridge’ that will span the river from Temple to the Southbank (more renderings at http://www.archdaily.com/389848/thomas-heatherwick-designs-garden-bridge-in-london/). Image Courtesy of Arup
Thomas Heatherwick and Arup's plans for a new, 367-meter long ‘Garden Bridge’ that will span the river from Temple to the Southbank (more renderings at http://www.archdaily.com/389848/thomas-heatherwick-designs-garden-bridge-in-london/). Image Courtesy of Arup

Recently the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne pledged £30 million towards Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge over the Thames. It was an easy offer to make towards a conspicuous piece of design by the author of the 2012 Olympic flame. Contrast this with the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s remarks about the contribution that our profession might make to schools: "We won't be getting Richard Rogers to design your school. We won't be getting any award-winning architects to design it, because no one in this room is here to make architects richer."

Together, these events indicate that our government does not understand our profession. Genius minds may be called upon to make exceptional contributions to a built environment that otherwise need not be exposed to such frivolity and impracticality. And yet, every day architects make practical decisions that lead to great buildings. It’s about time the politicians here in the UK and abroad listened to a very ‘practical’ profession.

London Calling: The Man Behind the Stirling Prize

01:00 - 4 November, 2013
London Calling: The Man Behind the Stirling Prize, B. Braun Melsungen AG Headquarters and Industrial Complex, Melsungen, Germany, 1993. Giovanni Chiaramonte, photographer. Canadian Centre for Architecture. . Image © Giovanni Chiaramonte
B. Braun Melsungen AG Headquarters and Industrial Complex, Melsungen, Germany, 1993. Giovanni Chiaramonte, photographer. Canadian Centre for Architecture. . Image © Giovanni Chiaramonte

A few weeks ago the RIBA doled out the 18th Stirling Prize to London-based architects Witherford Watson Mann. The decision was a good one. It was good for WWM and good for the profession – a youngish practice being recognized for a small but beautiful piece of work.

The scheme’s application of brickwork and joinery removes the work from the expediencies of modern construction technology and building products, which almost exclusively characterize the contemporary built environment. It genuinely feels like a project made at a different point in history, the result of the quite particular interests of three minds, Stephen Witherford, Chris Watson and William Mann. It is direct and personal. It reminds me of Stirling’s work.. 

And not just for its powerful draftsmanship, plan and restricted palette of materials, but for its intimacy. An intimacy that is apparent in much of Stirling’s oeuvre. I do not refer to the production of intimate spaces per se but the formulation of an architecture that is authored not by a factory but a few minds. 

The latest Stirling prompted me to look back, and reconsider the work of Stirling himself.

London Calling: How to Solve the Housing Crisis

09:30 - 2 October, 2013
London Calling: How to Solve the Housing Crisis, Nakagin Capsule Tower / Kisho Kurokawa. Image Courtesy of arcspace
Nakagin Capsule Tower / Kisho Kurokawa. Image Courtesy of arcspace

In recent weeks both the national papers and the London Evening Standard have been reporting dramatic increases in the price of houses in the capital. Up 8% in a year they say. This isn’t great. Rents are also rising sharply. Soon, many, particularly young, Londoners will be trapped, unable to rent or buy.  No doubt this is increasingly the case in many big cities. But England is still arguably in a recession, the worst for nearly a century. 

In an attempt to find affordable homes people move further away from their work, especially those on low wages, and spend too much of their salary and their time commuting. The cost of housing affects what we eat, whether we exercise and how much spare time we have. It affects our quality of life.

So, this is not about business or property. It’s more important. This is about home. Home is a refuge. It’s our emotional harbour. In fact it is a human right. As the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states: it is 'the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate ... housing'. 

Can architects help? Yes. As architects, we need to ask what home actually is, and, how it fits into the city. Indeed, the answer is as much anthropological as it is architectural, as it lies in re-thinking the house itself, in creating - not housing - but homes.

Why Cycle Cities Are the Future

01:00 - 6 August, 2013
Why Cycle Cities Are the Future, The Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington, designed by Weiss Manfredi. Image © Benjamin Benschneider
The Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington, designed by Weiss Manfredi. Image © Benjamin Benschneider

The 2010 launch of the “Boris Bike” - London’s cycle hire scheme, named after mayor Boris Johnson – was the clearest indication to date that cycling was no longer just for a minority of fanatics but a healthy, efficient and sustainable mode of transport that city planners wanted in their armoury. There are now more than 8,000 Boris Bikes and 550+ docking stations in Central London. And the trend’s not anomalous to London: Wikipedia reports that there are 535 cycle-share schemes in 49 countries, employing more than half a million bikes worldwide.

However, the real question is: will cycling actually change the city? Will it result in new urban forms or, as the title of Australian academic Dr Steven Fleming’s new book predicts, a “Cycle Space”? Like Fleming, I believe so. I believe that cycling might just be the catalyst for a 21st Century urban renaissance.

Read how, after the break...

London Calling: Public Architecture, Inside Out

00:00 - 27 June, 2013
London Calling: Public Architecture, Inside Out, Interior architecture of the Guggenheim Museum, by Frank Lloyd Wright. Image © Scott Norsworthy
Interior architecture of the Guggenheim Museum, by Frank Lloyd Wright. Image © Scott Norsworthy

By its very nature, architecture has an obvious, and powerful, public presence. No matter who commissions buildings, they form the material backdrop of public life; the design of every building impacts towns and cities and the experience of those living and working in them. Architecture, though, is more than a stage-set. While, all too often, designed “iconic” buildings are indeed objects, and often vanity projects designed to show off the aspirations and egos of certain clients and architects, the space both inside and around these buildings, like most others, is public space: shared space, space used by communities of people, and space that often has psychological and emotional effects on very many of us. Think of shops, department stores, banks, offices and the many other buildings that, privately owned, play important roles in everyday public life.

It’s this internal aspect of public buildings that has been increasingly marginalized as architects and clients work together to maximize the external impact and character of buildings.  After all, the public life of a public building, be it a court house or shopping-mall, does not cease once you are inside.

London Calling: The Latest Twist in the Tale of London’s Concrete Island

01:00 - 1 May, 2013
London Calling: The Latest Twist in the Tale of London’s Concrete Island, © Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
© Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

London is engrossed in a vigorous debate over recently unveiled plans for the South Bank Centre, the cluster of Brutalist concrete buildings on the River Thames including the Queen Elizabeth Hall (QEH) and Hayward Gallery.

Today, the Centre has as its neighbour one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions – The London Eye – and this, with the addition of retail and other leisure-led developments in and around the South Bank, has refocused both commercial and cultural attention on the complex.

Last month, British architects Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS) unveiled their vision for a “Festival Wing” on the site, focussing on the QEH and the Hayward Gallery. It isn’t the first time an architect has been asked to look at these buildings in recent decades. However, it is the most likely to come to fruition.

Read more about the Southbank Centre and its future development, after the break...

London Calling: London's Import/Export Culture

00:00 - 11 March, 2013
© Flickr User CC Hayes Davidson
© Flickr User CC Hayes Davidson

The following article is by Simon Henley of Henley Halebrown Rorrison (HHbR). His column London Calling will look at London's every-day reality, its architectural culture, and its role as a global architectural hub.

As a city, London is more than ever an architectural capital for propagating and consuming design culture. It has the highest concentration of architectural practices of any city in the world. Publications, exhibitions, events and a variety of pop-ups, pavilions and charrettes (not to mention the ever more popular pecha-kuchas) also attest to the fact. Schools like the Architectural Association (AA) in London’s Bedford Square have formed the minds of a number of world stage “star” architects.

Then there’s the skyline itself - stuffed with transplanted talent. Renzo Piano's Shard, the city’s new spire that stands high above the rest. Uruguayan Rafael Viñoly's controversial Walkie-Talkie, which swells by the day. Herzog & de Meuron's current work at The Tate Modern. John Nouvel’s shopping mall at St Paul’s, and the many 1980s American corporate buildings for commercial giants in The City of London by SOM, KPF and HOK.

Reflecting on this state of affairs of ‘high end architectural culture’ versus ‘high end commissioning culture’, one cannot help but see a curious chasm in London. In some ways, we are still today very much like the Victorians. Great inventors who leave it to the rest of the world to move our inventions forward.

Is London truly the world capital of architecture? Or a metropolitan trading post, an exporter of architectural ideas? Read more of Simon Henley's take, after the break...