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Clerkenwell plans first biennale

In the Middle Ages, monks held annual mystery plays there. Before the industrial revolution it gained popularity as a health resort; later, it became a centre for printing and clock and watchmaking.

Today, London's Clerkenwell is a Mecca for architects and designers, boasting among others Zaha Hadid, Wilkinson Eyre, ORMS and CZWG. And in summer 2004, the area will become the site of the UK's first architecture biennale, complete with exhibitions, competitions - and a herd of cows.

Peter Murray, director of architectural communications consultant Wordsearch, the driving force behind the event - first revealed by the AJ last July - said that while Clerkenwell may not have the canals of Venice it did have plenty of history of its own and a mass of resident talent.

Murray is hoping to open up a number of important buildings, currently lying empty, that will become the main exhibition spaces - Clerkenwell's Arsenale - and will feature a centrepiece exhibition on urbanity and the work of local architectural stars.

He is also negotiating with Islington council to close off and turf the bottom end of St John's Street to recreate a grazing site for live cows. The herd of about half-a-dozen animals will be driven down the street from the office of Bennetts Associates, which began its life as a cowshed.

The event, which will coincide with Architecture Week, will have novelist and London historian Peter Ackroyd as its patron, who will lecture on the history of the area. Murray hopes other local characters, such as writer, broadcaster and architectural patron Janet Street-Porter and chef Fergus Henderson, will also take part. He is particularly keen to encourage resident architects to get involved or organise their own events and for local businesses to help with sponsorship.

Other activities will include a talk series, with themes ranging from the work of YRM in the 1960s to the economic and social consequences of the gentrification of the area.

Each biennale will aim to give something permanent to the area, and the first year will see the launch of a competition to revamp a public open space.

Anyone interested in contributing to the event is invited to a meeting at 6.30pm on 4 June at Alan Baxter Associates, 75 Cowcross Street, London EC1. For information email peter. murray@wordsearch. co. uk.

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