London: A work in progress

Gail Taylor
Tuesday 02 Jun 2015

With over 240 events throughout June from walks and talks to pop-ups and pavilions, this year’s London Festival of Architecture promises not only to be a vibrant celebration, but a serious forum for some of the big issues facing the UK’s capital

There’s no denying that this, the seventh London Festival of Architecture (LFA), will be an extravaganza of sensory delights that will give architects from around the globe a golden opportunity to exchange and discuss fresh ideas informally. 

However, LFA is far more than just a pretty face and a chance to check out what other architects are up to over a glass or two of prosecco. Behind the scenes, London – like many others – is a city facing challenges on a massive scale, the most pressing of which will be aired during the month.

WAN’s Editor-in-Chief, Michael Hammond spoke to Lara Kinneir, LFA’s Programme Manager, to find out more about the serious issues the month-long Festival is seeking to address in order to make London the more ‘liveable city’ envisaged by London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, when he first launched LFA in 2008. 

High on the list comes London’s escalating housing crisis. The capital needs 50,000 new homes to accommodate a population that is tipped to hit the nine million mark in the coming years. Only a fraction of these are currently available, mainly due to the replacement of social housing with private rentals, together with an increase in speculative property development. This inflammatory combination of scarce supply and burgeoning demand is causing alarming hikes in average rents, evictions and homelessness. 

Next on the agenda, Kinneir touches on the importance of a more 360-degree approach to planning, saying: “We are still missing people or a team that really takes forward the idea of holistic thinking in the city – so that we’re not just looking at green spaces and streets and housing in isolation but looking proactively and holistically at how all these pieces make a liveable city.” Hammond agrees, pointing out that so often cities are “having to respond to planning applications rather than actually planning”. 

In addition to these important topics, this year LFA’s central theme is entitled ‘Work in Progress’. Kinneir explains that this has been interpreted by participants in a number of ways, from those looking at specific types of workplace to those predicting what the future holds for office space in general. She alludes to recent statistics in the press about the growing amount of office space being created in London over the next 10 years, and those that challenge these figures because the type of office space we build now ‘will be redundant’ in a decade’s time. Also under scrutiny will be the steady loss of London’s manufacturing and industrial base to the housing sector.

And for the first time in its history, LFA will feature a ‘Focus Country’ as a way of reaching out to other nations to encourage them to participate in the festival and ‘bring some of the conversations and topics that are happening in those countries to London’. The country in the spotlight this year is Ireland, which will be presenting its own Programme in two pavilions stationed at Kings Cross, designed and curated by Irish architects.

Feedback will be gathered from the events and installations at LFA to help kick-start what Kinneir describes as “a missing conversation … about what happens where, and by whom, and what does it look like and is it what people want?” She explains that part of the role of LFA “is to try and stimulate that dialogue and look for new ideas and designs, and new thoughts on these issues that we face every day”. 

The festival actively encourages members of the public to join in, as well as architects and other built environment professionals, in order to gain their input and to help take architecture down from what can sometimes be its ivory tower and onto the streets.

For further information about the LFA Programme in London this June, visit www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org

To listen to WAN’s insightful interview with Lara Kinneir in full, click the ShopTalk icon now.

Gail Taylor 

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