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Interview - Peter Bishop reflects on his first year at Design for London

Design for London (DfL) has elbowed its way to influence in the first year of its existence, using guerilla tactics to become what is effectively the most influential city architects office in the country. Richard Vaughan spoke to director Peter Bishop about the first 12 months.

How has the first year gone?

Very quickly. There’s always a worry that a new organisation can just disappear, but I feel now there’s a permanence about us. I think we’ve filled an empty niche.

What have been the highlights?

The London Development Agency (LDA) asked us to take over the process of framing and running the Olympic Legacy Masterplan – that will be shaping that part of London for 10 years. It’s a big vote of confidence. The second thing is that the Mayor’s 100 Public Spaces programme is delivering. Potters Fields [a development area on the South Bank] has been a huge success.

And there’s also Barking. That borough has pushed for something different and exemplary and I think they have produced some of the best combinations of space, urban design and housing I’ve seen outside Scandinavia and the Netherlands [see AJ 13.09.07].

What are your thoughts on recent claims of DfL favouring certain architects?

We’ve projected a style and approach to urbanism which is becoming a London trademark.

What we don’t do is impose practices or impose tastes. But ultimately there are good and bad architects and we’d be failing as an agency if we didn’t take the chance to procure good architects.

Where have you been least successful at over the last year?

We need to be consistent. We are restructuring DfL around a collective design review to try to make sure that every project that comes through is seen by three or four of us, as well as the project leads, and that we collectively shape a project.

The Mayor’s 100 Public Spaces Programme has come under fire for being overambitious, what is happening with it?

I’m in discussions about how we can scope procurement for public-space funding. One of the problems with the programme is that without a dedicated, bespoke budget it is very time-consuming to knit together alliances for everything you want to do. The reason Barcelona, Valencia and Bilbao are so good is because they had a budget for it.

There’s still a big debate to be won around valuing public space sufficiently to put serious money into it. We’ve made good progress on that, and I’m pretty confident the next raft of spaces will go through to implementation and we’ll soon see some really important things happening.

What does 2008 hold?

The Olympics is going to take up a large amount of our time. We have been given the Legacy Masterplan Framework, and the masterplanning of that will be key in the next year. We will also be looking at shaping the surrounding areas, such as Dalston, Woolwich and Barking.

The redevelopment of Brixton town centre starts on site in June, which already has £4.5 million in funding from the LDA.

The Public Realm Strategy we’re working on will be launched in March. It will contain a broad range of strategies from huge conceptual discussions and analyses on what makes London to quite detailed interventions where we can put a small input in, but have big repercussions on the way the area changes and develops.

Peter Bishop will be speaking at the AJ’s Designing for London conference on 15 January

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