How can London plan for resilience? How can it cope with the threat of flooding, with population pressures and with infrastructure issues?
One answer, according to a recent Urbanistas debate at Roca Gallery, lies in ‘networks’ – of recognizing the inter-connectedness of things.
Johanna Gibbons, landscape architect and co-founder of J&L Gibbons, was talking at the Resilience event with Irena Bauman, architect and co-founder of Bauman Lyons, as part of an ongoing exhibition of work by women innovators in architecture and urban design.
‘The network is the natural way to act,’ said Gibbons. ‘There is an irony that we are super-connected – but does that communication actually matter? We have to make a major shift – to recognize that we are part of ecology. We don’t just look at it.’
For Gibbons, that sense of network is recognized at a fundamental level: soil and rock. ‘Our work is about the underlying nature of the city – the geology and soils as much about the architecture and people.
‘Geology is where solids flow. It is to do with natural signatures – connecting us to the ground and the place we live. It is the fundamental foundation of our lives.’
She cites St Paul’s Cathedral as using a good choice of stone ‘as it can weather London’. It is an example of choosing the right material for the right place. ‘Resilience is about the fundamentals of being able to survive on this planet.’
Her compelling ‘Vitrine’ (pictured), on show at the Urbanistas exhibition, presents a cross section of different types of London soil, from ‘City Parkland’ to ‘Industrial Profile’. Our effect on the earth is clear.
Meanwhile for Bauman, communication is crucial – as is recognizing our power and our limitations. ‘We have a decline in democratic government, we vote less, and politicians have less power. Yet we have global communication.
‘We have to stop saying – “it’s not me” – that is the key to resilience.’
Bauman highlighted ‘people talking and mixing’ as important steps in the right direction and, above all, accepting that we cannot control everything – that we need to develop our cities in acknowledgement of climate change, not in denial of it.
‘We’re building on floodplains, but we are also in denial about the nature of climate change.’
One of Bauman’s proposals is to imagine the future of a small market town planning for climate change. There is a sense of acceptance, and designing for reality – so she suggests ‘slim buildings, to allow for natural light and ventilation’, using buildings to shade each other and using roofs in a different way – to provide additional community space and to hold solar panels more effectively.
The Urbanistas exhibition itself is a suitably grounded one, designed by Feix&Merlin, using pale wooden boards and simple displays to showcase big ideas. Here is Alessandra Cianchetta, founding partner of AWP’s current project for the major business centre of La Défense; here is Alison Brooks’ elegant Bath Western Riverside; here too are MUF’s Liza Fior and Katherine Clarke’s Altab Ali Park on Whitechapel Road – a compelling vision of what a local park can achieve.
As Gibbons added at the end of the discussion, her most recent project is about mental space – how our psyche is shaped by our environment. ‘We wear our environment like a skin.’
Urbanistas, Women innovators in architecture+urban+landscape design, curated by Lucy Bullivant and featuring work by Irena Bauman, Alison Brooks, Alessandra Cianchetta, Liza Fior and Johanna Gibbons, runs until 27 June at Roca London Gallery. It is free to enter. For more information visit http://www.rocalondongallery.com/en/activities/detail/137