Table tennis in scrapyards, theatre in playgrounds and a makeshift mentality: Crystal Bennes reviews London Festival of Architecture 2010
London Festival of Architecture, various venues, 19 June - 4 July 2010, www.lfa2010.org
When Peter Murray started what was to become the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) in 2004, then called the London Architecture Biennale, he completely grassed over St John’s Street, Islington, and sent a couple of cows down the road to kick off the proceedings. Sitting in a disused petrol station on Clerkenwell Road on a Saturday night this year, I felt like the LFA had come full circle. We were back where it all started in Clerkenwell, with a hundred people standing around a table made from polystyrene boxes, feasting on food that architectural designer Nicola Read and I had sourced from local restaurants to celebrate the end of the fortnight of architecture-themed events.
Murray himself was ubiquitous. In his speech at Buro4’s 25:25 event, which asked 25 established firms to nominate emerging practices, Murray said the 2010 LFA received just 10 per cent of the 2008 festival’s funding. However, he reasoned that this year’s festival was stronger for it: the lack of cash meant finding other ways to engage Londoners.
The organisers say the 600 events were visited by over a quarter of a million people, more than 10,000 of whom came from overseas, and 42 countries were represented, whether an event, talk, installation or exhibition. More than a dozen of the AJ’s highlights are profiled on the following pages.
Two personal favourites spring to mind. First, The Oikos Project, a community-built theatre created by the Architecture Foundation in collaboration with theatre company The Red Room. The theatre, located in the Marlborough Playground off Union Street, was built by project volunteers and festival visitors using reclaimed and recycled materials. It will remain on site until September, with regular performances produced by The Red Room. It’s a disgrace that Marlborough Playground should be called such: it isn’t a ‘playground’, but a large plot of tarmac. There’s not a single blade of grass - this is no place for children to play. But the community-built theatre transforms this grim, soulless environment.
Another excellent community-focused project is the Union Street Urban Orchard. Built with the help of the Bankside Open Spaces Trust and designed by Heather Ring of the Wayward Plant Registry, the Urban Orchard is what a community centre would look like if it were crossed with an allotment. It’s a wonderfully tactile environment, where you can play table tennis on a skip or get your hands dirty helping to tend the gardens.
One criticism of the LFA is that it can be too inward-looking and offers little more than summer parties for the profession. An important achievement of the London Design Festival (LDF), which takes place in September every year, is that it manages to attract the attention of the general public, perhaps because the LDF makes use of high-profile spaces such as the V&A and Trafalgar Square. Yet LFA certainly knows how to put on a party. The bash in New London Architecture’s (NLA) Store Street ‘pocket park’, designed by Moxon Architects with a pavilion built by engineers Price & Myers, was one of the best architecture get-togethers in a long time.
London’s architecture scene was out in force - with hardly a mention of double-dip recession - and Store Street’s South Crescent, just outside NLA, was turfed over. In the face of such a party, the budget didn’t seem to matter. It was a wonderful evening replete with hog roasts and beer under a beautiful summer evening sky.
Welcome to your City
House of Jonn teamed up with Aberrant Architecture to fill a Selfridges window display with a giant cityscape and live in it for 10 days.
Paul Finch, Will Alsop, Philippa Stockley and Roger Zogolovitch dressed up as historical figures at the festival opening.
Developers vs architects bicycle race
Developers and architects battled it out in the five-lap Smithfield Nocturne bicycle race. James Waite of developer Land Securities came first.
This cardboard bookshop designed by Campaign, which stocked books and vintage copies of AD, proved a hit with architects.
The Filling Station
The AJ’s Crystal Bennes joined Nicola Read of 815 Agency to host a feast under the canopy of a decommissioned petrol station.
Design Detail Trail
In this project users could search out overlooked design details throughout London, including signs, soffits and coalhole covers.
Kingston University architecture students’ Live Project produced this temporary viewing platform and shed at Gallions Reach.
Squire and Partners street party
Squire and Partners hosted a street party outside its Wicklow Street offices, complete with a graffiti wall, crazy golf and donkey rides.
High Street 2012
LFA head honcho Peter Murray visited London Met’s first-year architecture and interior architecture students’ Whitechapel market stall.
Moxon Architects designed a structure for the grass-turfed ‘pocket park’ in Store Street, outside the NLA’s headquarters at the Building Centre.
Journey to King’s Cross
Michael Collins, Hufton + Crow and Mark Power featured in this photography exhibition charting the changes to London’s King’s Cross.
Helsinki Horizon 2030
A Tardis-like sea container was the receptacle Helsinki’s City Planning Department chose to showcase plans to develop the city’s harbourfront.
Union Street Urban Orchard
100 Union Street in SE1 was transformed into an urban orchard and community garden by Heather Ring of the Wayward Plant Registry.
Architecture students Daniel Marmot and Pooja Agrawal’s Chai-Cycle was a cycle-propelled tea shop that toured the LFA, peddling tea to festival-goers.
Family workshops led by sculptor Brendan Jamison showed children how to build his trademark models from sugar cubes.
(Temporary) Stratford Museum
Juliet Davis of the London School of Economics’ Cities Programme curated this exhibition of artefacts, films and photographs of Stratford’s history.