Saturday, 22 October 2011

A book launch at Mansion House

On Monday I attended a book launch at Mansion House. The current Lord Mayor has a very strong interest in the built environment (not exactly surprising with a career spanning engineering, property development and regeneration) and this was the first of two very interesting evenings on this subject.

The book is The City of London, Architectural Tradition and Innovation in the Square Mile. This is a fabulous if somewhat weighty (physically that is) publication. Nicholas Kenyon (MD of the Barbican Centre) is the editor and the photographs are excellent. Despite the physical weight of the book it is a very easy read with lots of interesting snippets of information. It also covers all the major new buildings – although the new Rothschild’s building was still under construction when the book went to print.

I learned something about the Needlemakers’ home church, St James Garlickhithe, a Wren church, that is the tallest of the City churches and has the largest proportion of window area, a response to the buildings then blocking the south side.

This segues very neatly into my second visit to Mansion House on Tuesday for the third in a series of lectures initiated by the Lord Mayor on a range of urban issues, with a particular focus on London and the City. The first was on the development of London from a historical perspective; the second covered the current challenges and opportunities confronting cities, with particular reference to their growth. This final lecture focused on cities of the future what they might look like, how they will operate and what municipal and national leaders can do to ensure they evolve in a sustainable manner.

If the City is to remain a leading financial centre it needs to be vibrant and serve the needs of the businesses working there. Peter Rees, the City Planning Officer, spoke about the City of the 1980s where the only lunch to be found was usually liquid and the City was only alive during the day. I remember too that lunches were either in expensive restaurants (not open at night) a hideous snack in a pub or a sandwich and there was nowhere to buy a pair of tights! Those days are over and the City is alive at night and on weekends and you can shop for anything and eat food from almost anywhere in the world.

This is not only a response to the global market but also some enlightened attitudes to planning which have not constrained developers to keep reproducing versions of old buildings but attracted architects from all over the world with some stunning results. Buy the book to see the results!

Clearly the business community needs to be well served and transport is also a key issue. It was then rather depressing to descend into Bank station to go home. It is a maze that is badly sign-posted and exhausting to use. There is much being done to improve transport in and out of the City with increased buses (so slow with all the road works) Boris bikes (but not for me) and Crossrail – in my lifetime? At the moment the City is heaven above ground but the other place beneath.

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