Peter Murray on Promoting Architecture
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:: You are the Chairman of ‘New London Architecture’. The NLA program of exhibitions, events and publications bring together the leading professionals in the public and private sector to share knowledge and identify opportunities throughout the year.
What exactly is the mission of Centre for London’s built environment and what kind of services and actions does it make?
We are a public space here where everyone is welcome from tourists who come to look at the model through to planners, professionals and politicians where we have a series of seminars and debates and discussions about what is happening in London.
So, we see our role here as being a key focus for the whole debate about what is happening in London in terms of planning, development and architecture and where members of the general public, of the community can come and find out what’s happening, they can get information here but also they can take part in the debate of how London should develop over the next twenty to fifty years.
The Pipers Central London model forms the centerpiece of the NLA galleries and is built to a scale of 1:1500. How important is the aerial view of a city?
London is very different to many European cities because it’s relatively unplanned. It doesn’t have the ground, formal streets of Berlin or Paris or Rome. The reason for that is that London has evolved over a period of time where various villages around the central London area have grown until they formed a single metropolis.
That means that there is no grand planning but it is grown on a much more pragmatic basis. That very much creates the character of London and the model is very helpful to give a feeling of what that is like as a city, it helps people get their bearings as to where the various, new developments are, it also gives a you a picture of where things are happening within the city, where it becomes more dense and gives you an idea of the close grain of the central area.
How would you characterize contemporary architecture in London and UK nowadays?
Partly in relationship to the lack of planning in London, London has always been a city which has been driven by commerce and the needs of commerce. It’s a trading city and the architecture today really reflects that. Everything operates in relationship within the public and private sector which develops land and provides solutions which are reflect the businesses and the scale of businesses that is going on there.
So, you can see on the model the differences between the central CBD area of the city of London which was first developed when the Romans came here two thousand years ago, but it is still organized on a medieval street plan, because it has never been re-planned; since the great far of London it didn’t change to a more European style of planning.
There is a medieval street plan which houses one of the world’s financial centers. You compare that to something like Canary Wharf which is a much newer development, designed on a rectangular grid in the way of a lot of American cities and that has a very different style in form of architecture, the one that responds to the needs of the global financial trading companies.
Does Architecture as a profession need empowerment? In which ways should this be done?
Architecture definitely needs empowerment. Architects over the last twenty or thirty years have been pushed to the fringes of the decision making in the environment and they should become more focused in having an influence. There are two areas where they need to do that; one is that they should become much more involved in the political debate which they frequently don’t and the other one is that they should become more powerful within the building team.
Every major project is carried out by a wide range of other professionals and in recent years project managers and engineers and cost consultants have become almost more important than architects. That balance needs to be redressed and architects must join with the building team but increase their power within it.
Is the world financial crisis an opportunity for everyone to reconsider the ways that we design and construct the buildings and the urban environment?
Yes. Very much so, because we’ve had a period in Britain fifteen years of major growth where to certain extend architects have been like children in a candy store. They’ve been able to pick up each delightful idea they wanted to without really having to worry about the wider social consequences.
Now, a period of retracement, as we seeing at the moment, does mean that architects have to think much more closely about the way they use resources, the way they deliver public sects of projects, the way they deliver buildings for society generally and how they relate to the community.
At the same time, the community is becoming much more conscious of what it wants from architects, what it wants from those people who deliver things for the environment. Those two together hopefully will lead to a better quality of architecture and building than we’ve had in recent years.
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