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The future of placemaking

[THIS WEEK] Young urbanists are giving development a kick up the backside, says James Pallister

A hundred and fifty people gathered at the Cass, London Met School of Architecture’s new home on Whitechapel Road, on Saturday to discuss pop-ups, placemaking and urban realm initiatives in the Academy of Young Urbanists’ inaugural ‘Future of London Placemaking’ event. Five young practitioners – Studio Weave, We Made That, 815 Agency, Assemble and Clear Village – were invited to talk about their work

Mark Brearley, late of DfL, was there to introduce. London’s pace of development needed a kick up the fundament, he intimated, asking: ‘Why is it that in a prosperous, talent-filled city urban change is so mediocre? … why is it often so oafish, so embarrassing, so remarkably bad?’ But all is not lost. Brearley made the point that 10 years ago, the idea of a group of young students and practitioners to discuss past and proposed urban realm projects would have been unthinkable. Are events like Saturday’s just a collection of ‘nice stuff’, or are they bellwethers of a growing movement? Lewis Jones of Assemble said his group was born out of ‘a frustration with office-based architecture’. From this, ‘new business models and ways of working emerge’.

These show-and-tell sessions can sometimes omit the gory financials in favour of pretty visuals. But the pics don’t pay the rent, so it was welcome to hear some of the practices discuss their financing models. We Made That’s Oliver Goodall talked about how financing is often the most important aspects of their projects. Lewis Jones described how it was the Sugar House Studios project which helped Assemble get professional and make practice work financially. Now they are involved in a Pathfinder-scarred Liverpool, working on some of the many vacant terraces. As Jones said, there is ‘as much design in the finance and logistics of a project as in “actual” design’.

Discussion

‘The Future of London Placemaking’, Academy of Young Urbanists, The Cass, Whitechapel Road, Saturday 23 November

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