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London is 'crowded and business-like', says Berlin architect

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Architects today debated David Chipperfield’s claim that ‘homogeneous commercialism’ has had a negative impact on building in London.

In an article for The Guardian last month, Chipperfield argued that London, unlike Berlin, lacks a sense of culture and public realm where arts and creativity can flourish.

Private investment in London has a hold over new architecture, he added, and is an ‘absolutely terrible’ means of building a city.

As Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit – who is credited with giving the city its ‘poor, but sexy’ brand – stepped down after 13 years, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme asked Wilfried Kuehn, partner at Berlin-based practice Kuehn Malvezzi, and Liza Fior, partner at London-based MUF Architects, for their views.

Kuehn said the availability of empty space in Berlin meant the city is not so ‘crowded and business-like’ as London. After all, space is the resource creative people need for innovative urban planning.

Fior agreed there is less space in London than Berlin, but argued good planners and architects can work with investors to incorporate public realm into private schemes.

‘You have to work hard to add something, but if we take a job we will always have something to bring to the table,’ she said.

However, cuts in public spending have put local government planning departments under enormous pressure and there are fewer planners ‘to hold a scheme to account’.

She added: ‘All over London people are campaigning for the fabric of the city…for the relationship between buildings and their meanings.

‘Sadly they tend to do it at the very moment developers are going to kill it.’

Kuehn called for ‘new forms of social thinking in architecture’, including placing greater trust in ‘cooperative initiatives, working privately, but with aims that are not just for profit’.

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