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Rees: ‘High-rises are a last resort’

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Outgoing City of London planning chief Peter Rees discusses his new position as professor of places and city planning at The Bartlett

Why have you chosen to go into teaching after 29 years working as the City of London’s chief planning officer?
It’s finally time to step aside and leave the City in the safe hands of my magnificent colleagues. UCL is London’s global university and I hope to share my City planning experience and love of London with the Bartlett’s scarily intelligent students and staff. Every comedian likes a challenge and I’m hoping that the material I have tried out over the years on the planning committee will also work in the lecture hall.

What do you hope to achieve as The Bartlett’s new professor of places and city planning?
London is the greatest teaching resource I can imagine and The Bartlett is an incomparable centre of research and academic skills, which can inspire the future transformation of this city. Much of my time will be spent on building and strengthening this two-way interaction. There are countless bodies and individuals involved in the planning, development and regeneration of the capital but there’s only one ‘London Lab’ and that’s at UCL’s Faculty of the Built Environment.  

Which built environment students will benefit most from your expertise in architecture, planning, real estate and construction combined?

There is only one place to study London – from the top of a double-decker bus

The students with a passion for places in general and London in particular will be most likely to benefit, whatever their chosen discipline. To gain the most they will also need an Oyster Card, as there is only one place to study London – from the top of a double-decker bus.

How will your teaching complement the major changes expected in architectural education, which include the abolition of Parts 1-3 by 2016?
I hope to focus the architectural part of my teaching input on Part 0 (Context) and Part 4 (How to Persuade a Planner).

What tips will you be giving to student architects hoping to one day reshape the capital’s skyline?
Leave it alone until there is no other option – high-rise buildings are a last resort, when you have run out of land. Never mind the towers, put your architectural soul into the spaces.

With the City now behind you, how do you predict the Square Mile’s architecture will evolve over the coming three decades?
This is the era of refurbishment. The office buildings of the 1980s and 1990s need to be re-serviced and re-skinned. It’s cheaper, quicker and more sustainable than redevelopment and there is a good supply of commercial floorspace awaiting upgrade. It is the job of the planners and architects to help the City to adapt in a continual cycle of rejuvenation – steady as she goes.

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