Heart of London is proud to be one of the official hubs for this year’s London Festival of Architecture in June.
During the festival Piccadilly, St James’s will be dressed for the occasion with a thought-provoking art installation designed by international architectural practice, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. There will also be an associated exhibit to the banners held in the St James’s Church gardens.
The story behind the design:
The series of banners down Piccadilly, St James’s, looks critically at this year’s London Festival of Architecture theme, ‘boundaries’, and how they impact London at different scales. Starting with the wider city of London and zooming in until we get to the individual dwelling, the installation encourages us to stop and take note; to take the time to reassess and re-explore the physical, political, representational, social and economic boundaries that exist around us, whether we’ve noticed them before or not.
1: Greater London:
The Boroughs That Divide Us
The pink row of banners down Piccadilly, St James’s showcases the boundaries between different levels of local and municipal governance; from the citywide strategic administration of the Greater London Authority (GLA) to the more focused administration carried out by the 33 local authorities of each borough. These authorities range from some of the wealthiest to the poorest in the country, and there are some thought-provoking social boundaries to note within each borough. Camden, for example, has a 10-year difference in life expectancy from its southern edge (Euston Road) to its northern edge (Highgate).
2: The River Thames and arterial routes:
Mind the Gap
Londinium was established as a Roman settlement on the River Thames around AD 43. The town became a thriving trading post and grew into the City of London thanks to the power of commerce. Imports and exports of goods from around the world passed through the London docks via the Thames. Today, some 2000 years later, the Thames acts more as a barrier between north and south of the city. The orange row of banners shows how the Thames dissects London, and overlaid is a series of other arterial routes. However, these routes are deceptive, as they are not the main roads but the London tube lines. The routes reveal the chaotic reality of the underground system, which emerged from several competing railway companies, rather than the sanitised version of Harry Beck’s London Underground Tube map that we all know and love. Here we see another boundary – between the physical and the representational.
3: London View Management Framework (LVMF) – strategic views:
Corridors of Sky
Rarely considered, boundaries between the earth and the sky have also been created within London. Particular views of St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Palace are protected from a series of strategic viewing points such as Primrose Hill, Alexander Palace and King Henry VIII’s Mound in Richmond Park. As demonstrated by the red row of banners, these corridors slice through the city at different angles but are almost invisible unless you stand at the correct viewing spot. As soon as you move sideways these views disappear. These slices become even more important when you understand that across all 33 boroughs there are currently 451 towers in planning, none of which will be permitted to stand within one of these ‘viewing corridors’. It is these corridors that give rise to the tight group of towers in the city of London, with the group known as the ‘Eastern cluster’ sitting in a small triangular area between three different viewing corridors.
4: London’s parks and squares:
It’s Not Easy Being Green
The green row of banners represents the boundaries between the dense urban street pattern of Mayfair and Piccadilly, and areas of respite and breathing space. In this row you can see St James’s Square and a glimpse of both St James’s Park and Green Park, all of which provide relief within the urban fabric. These represent the boundaries between public and private urban space. Further west (or left) we see the vast open space of Hyde Park, formerly the private hunting grounds of Henry VIII in the 16th century. The park was opened to the public in 1637 and hosted the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace in 1851. At 350 acres it is one of the largest urban parks in the world.
5: Suburban housing and large-scale interruptions:
Same Same but Different
London offers many scales and types of physical boundaries. In the dark blue row of banners we witness the relentless march of the spectacular Georgian and Victorian terraces. Long, repetitive rows follow established routes such as transport lines, and sometimes trace the natural contours of the land, forming a constant backdrop to much of London. Boundaries between domestic and municipal are represented here; note the sewage treatment works interrupting terraced housing in west London.
6: The private dwelling:
A Place to Call Home
The final boundary in this series represented by the light blue row of banners is the most personal – the physical size of the space we occupy in our homes, and the ultimate boundary between public and private space. Each row of banners is 40 square metres when combined. This is actually larger than the minimum size of a one-bedroom studio flat, which must be at least 39 square metres according to the national space standards for new dwellings. In this row you can make out the living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom of an apartment at real scale 1:1. Market housing in the UK does not benefit from any space standards. As a result of this lack of standard the UK has some of the smallest homes in Europe.