Letter from London

1 - 3 December 2021, Lisbon

Letter from London

A weekly column from WAF's Programme Director, Paul Finch
The Silly Season has started with a bang...

2 August 2021

Perusing newspapers, magazines and websites, it is easy to imagine that alongside everyday life there is a strange parallel universe, where irrationality and prejudice are promoted by people who are supposed to defend enlightenment values of objectivity and fair-mindedness...
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Liverpool and Stonehenge will thrive, with or without Unesco

26 July 2021

The decision by Unesco to remove ‘World Heritage’ status from Liverpool, and its threat to de-list Stonehenge, tells us more about the institutional problems of Parisian panjandrums than it does about the reality of a city which is thriving and a monument which may finally get the relief road tunnel it deserves...
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Let's hear it for timber

19 July 2021

The American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously declared ‘the end of history’, in what turned out to be a highly inaccurate prediction about world futures. (The wittiest critic of his proposition, slightly surprisingly, was Margaret Thatcher, who said it sounded like ‘the start of nonsense’)...
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Global events trigger showcase architecture

07 July 2021

Major sporting and cultural events generally have an architectural corollary even if, as with the European football spectacular this week, the stadiums used are pretty familiar. Instead we note the backdrops the tv commentary teams use – in the case of ITV, showing us the tower of London in the foreground and Rafael Vinoly’s ‘Walkie Talkie’ office tower as a sort of centre stage. At Wimbledon there is always some new design to take in, especially since the aversion to sliding roofs finally dissipated...
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Green space need not be sacrosanct

30 June 2021

Guess which London borough we are talking about: ‘The largest number of units delivered in any one year (357) equates to 25% of the annual average needed. Given that performance, and the scale of the shortfall, there is little prospect that the rate of delivery of affordable homes will improve significantly in the short to medium term'...
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Let’s hear it for real planning!

16 June 2021

After years of criticism and endless reform, the UK government seems to have got the message that if you want a high-quality, proactive planning system, you need to pay for it. The announcement of a £500 million funding boost to help get the right staff in the right places was of course welcomed by the Royal Town Planning Institute, with reason...
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'Realigning the profession’? Don’t make me laugh

09 June 2021

Among his myriad responsibilities, including housebuilding, planning, winter-preparedness for pandemics and quite possibly the efficient supply of kitchen sinks, the housing minister Chris Pincher is also responsible for architecture and architects...
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Don’t sign crazy contracts!

02 June 2021

It may only be in the UK that clients and their lawyers see architects as soft targets for unethical and penalising contract negotiations. Possibly not, but wherever it may happen, it is similarly unethical...
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Getting cladding right

25 May 2021

The ongoing nightmare of people living in apartment blocks, with cladding comprising what should correctly be called ‘aluminium composite products’ continues to haunt not just their waking hours, but that of government ministers who seem caught in the headlights about how to handle this...
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Public space is for everybody

19 May 2021

‘Queering public space’ is the rallying cry of a report from Arup and the University of Westminster. What does it all mean, wonders Paul Finch...
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Mind your language

12 May 2021

Looking at the flyer for a forthcoming built environment conference, I was struck by the following phrase: ‘If your development doesn't serve women well, it doesn't serve anyone well’. Is there some woke hq churning out this weird stuff? It is on a par with that other meaningless slogan: ‘Unless everybody is Covid-safe, nobody is’...
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Surreal London goes to the polls

05 May 2021

This week London gets the chance to retain or replace its Mayor, and since it is a mainly Labour city will probably return the incumbent, Sadiq Khan. The election campaign has nevertheless begun to focus on the failings of Khan, who is by far the worse holder of the office since it was inaugurated in 2000...
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Tall buildings put critics in a tizz – as usual

27 April 2021

It comes as a surprise to a certain sort of media commentator that London is increasingly a focus for the development of tall buildings. The annual survey by the New London Architecture organization has, for several years, noted the increasing number of buildings of more than 18 storeys being proposed in the capital. It should not come as a surprise...
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Overtime debate generates more heat than light

20 April 2021

London practices are debating that periodic issue: how do you win work without asking staff to work overtime, and if you do so, how should that work be remunerated? This has been prompted by a ginger group of young architects, who are demanding that the RIBA ‘does something’ about this question, though it is unclear how many of the protestors are actually RIBA members...
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The Duke of Edinburgh was a modern from start to finish

15 April 2021

Reports that the Duke of Edinburgh had designed modifications to a Land Rover, in order to provide the hearse for his own funeral, will have come as a surprise to the public, perhaps. But to anyone who has observed the history of his relationship to the world of design it won’t have been surprising at all...
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Office values defy the doom-merchants over the future of workspace

8 April 2021

There has been intense debate in London about the future of the office market, or ‘workspace’ market as some like to call it. Office occupiers are split about whether the ‘normal’ market will ever come back, with worker-drones now accustomed to the joys of non-commuting, and the fluid lifestyle home-working can provide...
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Architectural truth can be stranger than fiction

1 April 2021

It is good to be back on the World Architecture Festival website, after a decade during which this column appeared in Another Journal. Your correspondent is the same, but the column will now, I hope, have a more internationalist feel, as befits a website which promotes a truly global festival, committed to the entire world rather than a particular country or continent. Of course there will be some London gossip too...
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