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The appointment of London's first design director was not without irony. For when Peter Bishop takes up his new job in January, he will be doing so in the Palestra building - designed by one of his main competitors for the role, Will Alsop (see Building Study, pages 25-37).

The selection of Bishop came as a surprise, with Alsop and Ricky Burdett seen as being favourites for the job.

But there is no doubt in the winner's mind that he is the right choice; despite grumblings over the role being given to a 'manager', not a designer.

With nearly 30 years of experience working in London, Bishop has overseen some of the capital's biggest developments and is under no illusion how great an undertaking it is.

'I think to have this idea of needing to be a designer is missing the point of the job, ' he says. 'And I hope to be sitting with Will Alsop soon having a good talk over a drink.'

Bishop adds: 'I'm not a big name in design or architecture but I don't have to be - I know how cities work.

'This job is about giving focus. It doesn't matter how brilliant a designer you are if you can't implement designs and bring ideas together. It's not just about being a manager.'

Bishop will be heading up design in the Mayor's new Design for London (DfL) team, bringing together existing teams from the Greater London Authority (GLA), the London Development Agency, and possibly Transport for London.

The details of the new design director's role are still being worked out, but Bishop says he will be looking to 'advise, change, channel and shape ideas', as well as create an open dialogue about the future of London.

'DfL has to engage with all Londoners, and we will be trying to get as many people excited about their city as possible, ' he says.

'It has to operate on a range of levels, unifying broader themes with more detailed ones, such as looking at the psychology of a city, right down to studying the detailed design of streets.'

He adds: 'I also want it to be exible and permeable. We'll be looking at seconding people in and out of the unit, trying to establish good working relationships with architecture schools throughout London.'

The enthusiasm with which Bishop speaks about his new role is immediately obvious.

He claims to have 'the best job in Britain', and is quick to allay fears that DfL may take powers from other design bodies.

There have been concerns from CABE over how the two bodies will sit together, but Bishop says he is mindful that the DfL should complement such organisations - to be a 'natural forum, which does not duplicate work'.

The positive messages coming from London's new design guru are unlikely to appease everyone, but the role has been successful in other European cities, such as Barcelona, and Bishop will be looking abroad for inspiration.

'I don't have a blueprint to follow - I think I would be very dangerous if I did, ' he says.

'But I will be looking elsewhere, as there's an awful lot that we can learn.

'We will be completely open to ideas, and hopefully, in a few years' time, people from other countries will be coming to look at what DfL is doing.'

Bishop is well aware the UK is perceived as being too conservative in its architecture, and this is at the top of his list of things to change.

To do this, he is not afraid of employing the services of international architects. DfL, Bishop says, will be picking the best of British and international practices.

'You can only really count on one hand the number of foreign architects building in London, although they are working on some of the standout schemes in the city, ' he says.

'But there are an awful lot of extremely good young practices coming through at the moment, and hopefully there will be a willingness from them to get involved and work with us.'

For the time being, Bishop will carry on as director of culture and environment at Camden Council, but he is keen to begin the design debate.

He says, 'There is an awful lot of talk of the effect of tall buildings on London's skyline, and rightly so. But there is the widely overlooked problem of how buildings meet the ground.

'All too often big developments can create a vacuum, as the 'edge' areas of the scheme are left behind. I want to look at integrating the edges of developments, a field of design still generally neglected.'

Which begs the question: will Bishop be entirely comfortable with the idea of calling Alsop's ambitious highrise Palestra scheme 'the office'?


1976 Manchester University:

degree in town and country planning 1978 London Borough of Westminster: worked in development-control team 1980 London Borough of Islington:

head of policy-research team 1984 London Borough of Tower Hamlets: head of implementation and landscape department 1985 London Borough of Tower Hamlets: director of planning 1987 London Borough of Haringey:

head of property, planning and architecture department 1997 London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham:

director of environment 2001 London Borough of Camden:

director of culture and environment 2007 Design for London: director

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