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Alsop and Koolhaas' aspirations for London

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Santa Raymond reviews

Last Saturday night, more than 200 people crammed into the base of the Economist Building for the first of the Architecture Foundation's 'London Calling' series of talks (17 November to 8 December). Will Alsop and Rem Koolhaas were the headline acts for this debate on the future of London, chaired by Alex de Rijke.

Koolhaas told how his first experience of the capital inspired hatred: 'I was baffled by all sorts of things. It was pedestrian, irrational, Celtic, heroic.

Now, I could happily live here, but not work here.'

Alsop said the city still suffers from the 'vociferous conservatism' that started in the 1970s.

'London, as a cosmopolitan city with its strong Victorian infrastructure bravado, is unique in its resistance to fundamental change, ' he said, but added that small-scale intervention allowed the ordinary and the radical to exist cheek by jowl, thus adding to the richness of the experience.

Koolhaas blamed the 'triumphant market economy of the 1970s for putting a temporary end to architecture as a central part of progressive culture in the capital'. He said the realities of a new London cannot be ignored.

'The bad taste and mediocrity of much City and Canary Wharf architecture pose a strong challenge, ' he said. He then rebuked both Foster and Rogers, stating: '[They] advocate a certain urbanism which is both predictable and banal.'

Koolhaas went on to claim that 'towers are proofs of a poverty of imagination', and said the world was becoming a mixture of huts and towers.

Alsop said he wanted a 'clearly defined city'.

'The M25 should act as a virtual city wall, ' he said, 'with building in the city but not outside - like Cairo, where it's city and then you're in the desert'.

A desire for structure was echoed by Thomas Heatherwick - one of the people expressing their thoughts on the future of London. He called for 'a coherent vision for London so that street furniture, litter bins and bus shelters are no longer such a rag bag'.

Piers Gough of CZWG Architects described the 'squalid public zone of the street' which should be 'transformed and beautiful, and include a service trench so that road surfaces would remain pristine long into the future.'

Other views that came to light during the debate included concerns over 'too much architectural homogeneity and Eurodesign' in the capital.

The diversity of London culture was well illustrated in a film shown about Alsop's Peckham Library. Judging by their comments in the film, customers of all ages seemed pleased with their library: 'A good improvement'; 'I get inspiration from working in a building like this'; 'I thought it was a spaceship but then I found it was a library';

'It's a good place to meet people, and just hang out and socaliseà' Certainly, aspirations for the whole city.

Santa Raymond is principal of office design specialists Santa Raymond Consultants and the co-author of Tomorrow's Office: Creating Effective and Humane Interiors; e-mail src@sraymond. demon. co. uk

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