Building London's identity

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1 day ago (9:21 AM)
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livehere

Concerning the last question, on ensuring architectural design quality: the very first step, one that is urgently needed, is to put an end to the way the London Plan Town Centres policy is being used to dump large items of architectural banality into locations that desperately need well-designed buildings that enhance or improve the existing urbanscape. For example, Swiss Cottage, where the Mayor has been supporting developers Essential Living, who plan to insert a vile-looking skyscraper next to the iconic Swiss Cottage library, designed by Sir Basil Spence, and other adjacent well-designed buildings. The Town Centres policy should ensure that there is a plan that treats each 'town centre' as a coherent whole, and only allows careful townscape development of high quality.

Journeyman

No one seems to be considering the huge number of new homes that could be delivered by redeveloping and regenerating the numerous low rise very poor quality secondary and tertiary shopping areas in London and the UK. Whilst I appreciate that owners/traders need to retain incomes a sophisticated grant system could generate a rolling programme which would not only bring new homes on brownfield sites but also improve the customer offer by generating new and improved retail areas and encouraging new entrants with new retail and economic offers into these areas

livehere

Those poor quality secondary and tertiary shopping areas should absolutely be refurbished or redeveloped - the objective should be to turn them into local primary shopping and cultural centres as well as providing more housing. Greater London has far too many drab boring 'high streets', usually strung along fairly main roads. Attractive local cultural and shopping centres might take the pressure off the centre of London, which suffers from serious overcrowding.

racooncoat

Increase density by promoting the generally low rise urban perimeter block with shops and services at ground level like European cities. The English mindset is to import village architecture and its two storey house into the city, which is retrogressive. Ebenezer Howard's garden city idea that has had world wide influence, and replicated at vast scale in USA was delusional both spatially and socially. It promotes or requires the motor car, is a disincentive to walking. and degrades human sociability and sophistication. I live in suburbia and people are insular and downright unfriendly. Cars are everywhere, more often than not with one person inside and the pollution is blatant. The level of wasted or redundant space is enormous, better to put it into sociable parks and squares. It's a relief not to have a car or need one at the moment. But for most a car is not a privilege but a right and when they get one they often become monsters behind the wheel. Cities should also allow for safe cycling. Traffic has become scary. The problems and solutions are obvious but we continue to wreck the place. One day the place is going to wreck us.

livehere

It is already wrecking us.

Lilian

5 storeys, modern block of flats, with communal gardens and shopping facilities at street level. For me, that could be a good solution.

livehere

But a lot of high streets are like that, though maybe without the communal gardens. I think it needs a few more storeys and a revolution in architects' and developers' mindsets on design. Redevelopment is needed, and the shopping facilities taken off the main roads - put the high street round the back, create a cultural and shopping centre off the main road.

Journeyman

I would love to see someone nominate an area and for an architect to take up the gauntlet and do a proper master plan with a robust public realm and infrastructure plan and get some of that CIL money spent on the community. How, in this day and age, we can put up with grotty shops and even grottier accommodation over yet focus on building on green belt is beyong belief. Yes the concept will be difficult but its not impossible.

livehere

Yes, brilliant way to do it. Starting with an area in somewhere like Thornton Heath, for eg.

Susan12345

I would say redefine the green belt by replacing agriculture with woodland and wildlife and building on some areas. It's not really green if it a parched field.

Susan12345

There should be no such thing as a grotty shop. We need to increase our expectations and make sure they don't lie empty or unloved.

Journeyman

I think there is a simple but educational approach to this suggestion. This is for a trainee architect or a university to design a project of it. As a student, if I had been given the task and opportunity of going out armed with os maps to assess an area and work out a basic design and numbers exercise (existing versus potential) for my lecturer to consider and then take us to the next stage I would have loved it. Real life experience that could potentially be submitted not only for internal assessment but also externally to Mayor of London to see if it might be workable. any lecturers or principal architects out there...

safe frequency

I do think that now London looks a mess. It seems that every architect has their own ideas and gets away with it.No joint-up thinking apparent anywhere!

Journeyman

I think the masterplan and public realm and infrastructure plan approach over these wider areas would make London more joined up and, importantly, ensure that fundamental design and environmental features are retained and enhanced during the process. This district approach would also enable dovetailingn with neighbouring borough districts or centres on important infrastructure considerations and hopefully deliver more economic and sustainable solutions.

livehere

We have had some of that public realm approach in our area, where there are large property companies owning swathes of land and property. Each time there is cohesive design and good quality architecture (if a bit homogenised) but also they are upgrading the local environment and refurbishing blocks of property to increase its market value.. Ordinary Londoners' needs are being planned out, one way or another. The problem is to have high quality architectural design while keeping costs down.

nellief

Expanding the London perimeter and getting additional area in by way of commercialising and providing adequate transport options, would be a possible solution. The other would be standardising and limiting the number of floors in a building based on the zones and avoiding skyscraper would help retain the London Identity. Limiting the purchase of houses to new buyers only would definitely help housing issues to some extent.

livehere

London is far too big already, and has consumed many areas that used to be in adjacent counties; this contributed to those areas losing identity and becoming homogeneous suburbs of London. Land prices and housing demand are so high that it is essential to knock down swathes of identical streets of identical 2 storey houses and replace them with 4 - 8 storey properties, with more green areas and distinctive architecture. Whole neighbourhoods should be redesigned, with noisy cultural areas kept away from residential areas, mostly car-free, and with schools, retail area and other essential facilities designed-in. Instead of piecemeal insertion of bland ugly high rise blocks of flats.

Susan12345

I agree about piecemeal insertions on scraps of land. They look absurd, are usually tiny inside and completely disrupt the natural flow of an area.

livehere

I love the really creative architectural design used for little one-house inserts, but not the way high rise blocks are being inserted into plots of mid-rise or low-rise housing, taking away essential green areas, light, and any sense of human scale.

Susan12345

I agree satellite towns with good transport links like Milton Keynes but not so far out.

Geoff

Golf courses take up twice as much land as housing, to the benefit of a tiny minority. Time to redress!

Susan12345

Absolutely agree they must be open to the public but don't build on them!

bobls99

I agree. Their contribution to the environment is small - being almost a monoculture of grass. In fact the use of herbicides and pesticides is potentially or actually harmful.
Their recreational value is also low - as you say, they benefit few people, who could take a day trip by train out of London to one of the many courses in neighbouring counties.

Susan12345

Homes need to be spacious inside. Build higher if need be. Build new satellite towns outside m25 with good transport. Don't build next to motorways and railways.

livehere

Railways are the good transport, but homes should never be built adjacent to the tracks.

thomas.a

Totaly agree. Higher and more spacious.

AlanMoore

We don't have a 'small amount of space' we have a massive amount of space - but a lot of it is very badly used. Private sector greed is being allowed to distort the market.

i) Many new developments aim for the 'luxury' end of the market; and many of those go to overseas buyers and/or are little used. This practice could be stopped with new rules on planning and ownership. ONLY allow social and (relatively) low cost housing to be built.

ii) Where possible, reuse existing buildings rather than replacing them with soulless concrete and glass boxes. Old dock buildings for example would make awesome flats, even if there is a compromise on space.

iii) Use the water! There is so much unused space there, and tens of thousands of people who would love a houseboat mooring in London. It's criminal to see the old docks empty - not to mention the Port of London Authority's ongoing campaign to denude the river of live-aboards.

livehere

I think the waterways board or whatever it is called is busy trying to reduce the number of permanent moorings. Or are they trying to make the prices go so high that only the wealthy can afford them? A London mooring can cost up to half a million these days.

Neil38

Georgian terraces may not be a realistic example today, but they were at least a more sensible use of space than that of the 2 up, 2 down that is the legacy of the interwar period. Houses can be built higher than they are at the moment - maybe five or six storeys. New York City manages to achieve a population density approaching twice that of Greater London, but not all of the houses in New York are in skyscrapers or housing projects - just a more sensible use of space is achieved.

jryser

remember the postulate that tower blocks are not fit for housing (referring usually to tower blocks on social housing estates which were built to increase the overall density and packed with single people)? Will the 260 tower blocks with planning permission on the London south bank become the slums of the future? And be demolished like some of the 1970s tower blocks, and at whose expense?

livehere

They will have barely any social housing in them, no doubt all with separate poor peoples' entrances, and will be offering top of the market flats to the rich and to absentee owners. So they will probably be better quality builds with better quality maintenance, and will live longer in consequence.

Journeyman

I think we are getting off the point here. The idea of the chat was to try to find a university or architectural practice that would identify an areas and do some basic but innovative masterplanning to see if there is merit in central government pursuing a bigger focus on some of these poor quality tertiary and secondary retail/residential areas. Presumably no academics or architects have log ins!

livehere

This was the point I think "How do we build enough homes in the small amount of space we have (i.e. more densely) but at the same time retain London's identity in doing that?" It is not just a problem with the town planners and architects, the majority of whom seem to be pretty mundane in their approach. But maybe that is because both the politicians and the developers lack imagination, the ambition to produce really good urban design, and the will to put money into good major projects. It's not as if the ideas aren't out there - just hunt around on google - it's just getting those with the vision funded and backed.

Journeyman

But it is likely that funding and backing will only come if there is a proposal put forward that shows such a proposal could work - chicken and egg I suppose.

livehere

Consider the Angel Building in Islington which was on the RIBA shortlist, even though this is a refurbished office building. Architecturally it is a good achievement; visually it is ordinary and boring. The same company also refurbished an adjacent building, 4-10 Pentonville Road - this building looks much more interesting - much to do with the use of the bespoke brick on the facade. This company, Derwent, take the trouble to go out and about looking for ideas and inspiration - to Chicago, to Denmark for example. They have a more positive attitude towards architecture, but it does not always result in buildings that London deserves. One Oxford Street is not good to look at. The Corner House down Tottenham Court Road way is better, OK, at least not a looming great tower overwhelming adjacent buildings, but not brilliant visually. 80 Charlotte Street - replaces the bland boring block that was occupied by Saatchi and Saatchi, an improvement but even though this is the section of Charlotte Street where the big lumpen buildings are located, it is after all Charlotte Street. Surely they could have been required to break up that monolithic stretch of facade with some brilliant piece of design? For very small infill, consider Levring house in Bloomsbury - there are hundreds of examples of exciting infill houses from all over the world. For tall tall buildings - which should never be just plonked down next to low rise buildings - no to the Can of Ham, no to the hideous Canaletto building - the list goes on and on.

Talk London

Hi all,

Just posting to confirm that we do indeed want to hear from all Londoners with thoughts on what developments should/can look like, given what's needed and the space that there is.

It would of course be great to hear from students and professionals too - but we're seeking thoughts from everyone.

Thanks for all of your contributions so far. Keep them coming!

Wendy
Talk London Team

livehere

Developments should not look like the huge towers proposed for the Bishopsgate goods yard development, the ugly tall infill blocks being squeezed in amongst low height housing in so many places, or like the Swiss Cottage development where some good interesting architecture is being overwhelmed by yet another giant ugly block.
It should smoothly segue with surrounding buildings, leaving space and light for nearby schools and residential properties, without necessarily matching them. It should be of high quality visually as well as structurally, interesting, with verve and daring. Sadly the government has ensured that local people have no control over local development design at all (changes to planning law did nothing to empower locals in this respect). When a local council does manage to say 'no' to some ghastly great lump of boiled banality, the developers just get the Mayor or government to over-ride their decision. And thus do overseas pension funds get profits from investing in these developments, the developers make a fortune from selling or renting high-value accommodation to overseas absentee wealthy folk, and the people of London get nothing. Opportunities for making London the home of iconic and interesting architecture, from large developments to small infills, are continually being passed up.

Tonnerre

Ce n’est pas seulement une question de construire plus de logements. On doit assurer que ces logements sont vendus aux les gens qui vont les occuper. Souvent les promoteurs immobiliers construisent des appartements de haut de gamme. Ce ne sont pas des appartements donc les habitants à Londres en ont besoin. Peu de gens pourrait payer des millions de livres pour un appartement. La clientèle de ces « super » appartements sont des riches étrangers at ils souvent laissent les appartements inoccupés. Même si ils décident de les louer, peu de gens pourrait payer le loyer pour ce type d’appartement.
Donc la conclusion est évident – les appartements luxurieux ne servent rien pour assouplir le problème de logement à Londres.
À mon avis il faut y avoir une loi qui interdire le développement des appartements de luxe. Tous les appartements devraient être abordable pour les « moyens » Londoniens.

Talk London

Just a quick, rough translation of this comment (using Google Translate, so quite possibly not perfect):

"This is not just a matter of building more housing . We must ensure that these homes are sold to people who will occupy them.
Often developers build high-end apartments. Not so for the residents apartments in London in need. Few people could pay millions of pounds for an apartment. The customers of these "super" apartments are at wealthy foreigners often leave vacant apartments. Even if they decide to rent them , few people could pay rent for this apartment type.
So the conclusion is obvious - the luxury apartments will serve nothing to soften the housing problem in London.
I think it must be a law that forbid the development of luxury apartments. All apartments should be affordable for "average" Londoners ."

Thanks all,

Wendy
Talk London Team

AlanMoore

That's what I said!

Tonnerre it's a problem for most people that you post in French, could you use English mate?

livehere

If we were all taught a language from nursery school onwards, more of us would have no problem with French. I just sling Tonnerre's comments into the ubiquitous online translate thing, and generally get the gist.

livehere

Even the small proportion of so-called 'affordable' housing units that councils require property developers to include in their residential developments are beyond ordinary Londoner's financial reach. Some in Camden, at 80% of market price, needed an income of £60,000 to cope with the mortage. Not what the average nurse for example can afford to pay.

bobls99

There are a lot of 3-storey blocks, in both private and public housing. Some could be suitable for having an extra floor built on top, if the existing tenants/leaseholders agreed. They should of course be given something to compensate for the disruption, and a refurbishment of their flats at the same time.
Those that were changed would have an increase in capacity of 33%.

livehere

This is being done quite a lot - but the other way round. When a property owner is refurbishing, they stick an extra floor on top at the same time.

eleanorbydesign

My concern is that even when houses are built they are bought by investors, sometimes off plan before the development is even on site. It doesn't matter how many houses you built if they are not being bought by people who work in the city and live in the communities when these developments are.

Maitrida

I generally support what 'Racooncoat' says but would add that well designed and safe high rise can be still be a good option for some needs with safety factors built in such as concierge and entryphone systems. We also have to address the inbalance of housing in London where hardly any new social housing is being built. There are a lot of innovative ideas in the building and architectural world which could be drawn on.

JonG

- accept there is a limit to London's capacity, promote development of workplaces elsewhere.
- avoid creating car-dependent districts, which worsen congestion (e.g. northern Hayes).
- new housing to have secure cycle storage, to promote cycling.
- large developments to have good cycle and public transport access.
- do not repeat 1960's high rise mistakes.
- start with improving/replacing the worst housing, to avoid gentrification due to localised improvements.

livehere

To replace the worst housing would mean using compulsory purchase orders to clear swathes of low rise suburbia. Which latter is seriously in need of major re-design, with housing provision increased vertically and more space for green areas, which are very much absent in many suburban swathes.

livehere

There are acres of low rise housing in places like Thornton Heath that should be redeveloped to higher housing density.

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