Victoria Broackes on collaboration being key to the London Design Biennale 2023
by Samta Nadeem, Zohra KhanJun 02, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by John JervisPublished on : Jul 07, 2022
The London Festival of Architecture (LFA), as its website proudly proclaims, is the world’s largest annual architecture festival. First held in 2004, it’s a "month-long celebration of architecture and city-making" that takes place every June, and it’s an undeniably impressive enterprise. This year, there were over 400 events scattered across the capital, from street installations, panel events, and site and studio visits, to local tours, workshops and exhibitions – and much more besides.
This considerable scale is achieved, in part, through a focus on collaboration, bringing diverse organisations onboard to propose and deliver events, including architectural practices and professional bodies; nonprofits, museums, and galleries; colleges and universities; as well as local authorities and developers. A quick scan of this year’s programme reveals this sweep of participants, and the sheer extent of the undertaking.
Despite this abundance, at times LFA still seems to go under the radar, in part due to inherent challenges around displaying and discussing architecture, which does not always lend itself to the immediacy achieved at design or art festivals. In addition, LFA’s collaborative nature encourages modest events organised by smaller bodies within the architectural and academic communities, and the resulting projects have a tendency to address peers among these groups. And, perhaps, a popular suspicion of architects and modern architecture still lingers among wider audiences.
Lately, however, a more inclusive approach has been emerging. Most notably, the built-environment charity Open City has expanded its focus from its longstanding annual festival, at which the public is invited into otherwise inaccessible buildings. Spurred in part by the restrictions imposed by successive Covid-related lockdowns, it has been admirably energetic in finding inventive new ways to fulfil its remit of "making London and its architecture more open, accessible and equitable".
This increased willingness to recognise, address and unlock popular appetites for engagement with architecture is also having its impact on LFA, as evidenced by some of the projects illustrated here. We spoke to its director, Rosa Rogina, to find out more about the Festival, its current and future ambitions, its outreach and audience, and what other cities might learn from its success.
John Jervis: How would you describe the aims of the London Festival of Architecture?
Rosa Rogina: The LFA is a month-long celebration of architecture and city-making, taking place every June across London. Its aims are to open up discussions around architecture, test new ideas, and uncover and promote new architecture and design talent.
John: And how does its programme reflect these aims?
Rosa: We pride ourselves on providing the platform and tools for events to take place which are sensitive to the people and place. Every year, we expect the Festival to continue to celebrate and challenge our conceptions around architecture and our city. Its programme is people-led and curated by our event organisers; we believe in the power of collaboration with the people who live, shape, and truly know London. It’s the breadth and creativity of this community of event organisers that delivers such a varied and engaging programme of events.
John: And could you tell us about this year’s theme, ‘Act’?
Rosa: Every year we have an overarching theme, which helps guide the curatorial direction of the Festival. After asking our network of event organisers, supporters, and followers for ideas, we selected ‘Act’. In many ways, LFA has never felt more timely, and this year our organisers have responded passionately and diversely to this theme, from reinterpreting familiar places through to new installations and activations, redesigning public spaces, to workshops which encourage participation and learning, to talks and walks that open the conversation around our city to new audiences. The resulting programme reflects not just London now, but a vision of what it could be.
John: Many events seem appropriate to specialist audiences – do you have aspirations to engage with a wider public across London, and what tends to work best in achieving this?
Rosa: Since its origins in 2004, the Festival’s mission has always been to celebrate good design and London as a global hub of architecture, and to reveal the underlying potential of its emerging designers. However, it is important for us to make clear that you don’t need to be an architect to be involved – this is a festival for anyone who is interested in architecture, design and our city. Through our year-round work and free access to staging events, our aim is to help empower communities so that they have the space to voice their ideas and contribute to how their built environment may look and feel in the future.
John: Who organises and funds the Festival?
Rosa: LFA is run by New London Architecture (NLA), the world’s leading centre for the built environment industry, with a small team working on the Festival year round. We are here to champion the industry, but we wouldn’t be able to do so without the industry’s support. We rely on the support of a range of organisations from across the profession, including the Greater London Authority, a number of local authorities and business improvement districts, developers, architects and others.
John: How do you go about your collaborations with these diverse bodies?
Rosa: The foundation of our programme is built upon collaboration and co-creation, between our partners, supporters, event organisers and the various communities we are engaging with. We want to encourage people to rethink and consider what architecture is, who it’s for and how it can shape and support community.
John: Do you feel that there is a potential to expand the Festival further, or give it a higher popular profile, and if so, what might it take to allow that to happen?
Rosa: From a personal perspective, ever since joining the team in 2016 I have been struck by the Festival’s ability to impact everyday experiences of the city, something that’s going to be needed more than ever as London continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we focus more keenly on the climate emergency. Building on the Festival’s rich legacy of urban experimentation and innovation, we have been collaborating with a variety of organisations, including leading cultural organisations, local authorities, business improvement districts and private organisations on a number of public realm activations and interventions, both temporary and permanent. These types of projects demonstrate the huge potential the Festival holds not only as a showcase of good practice but also as a driving vehicle for a meaningful change.
John: Could you see the Festival’s format being suitable to other major cities, or are there unique features around London’s relationship to architecture?
Rosa: Absolutely, and not only to major cities! Of course, with a slight adjustment to the model as every city is different in terms of its urban context, demographic, and needs. Local relevance is the most important here, so perhaps some topics we are heavily exploring in London are less relevant in other cities. What is crucial is the network. Festivals cannot operate in isolation, and for such an event to be successful it is important to establish the broadest possible network across built environment and cultural sectors, government and the public to connect, share knowledge, challenge, and effect positive change.
John: Are there any particular parts of this year’s programme that you have particularly enjoyed, or that you feel display the range and quality of the LFA?
Rosa: It is really hard to pin down this answer to only a few events, because it is precisely that breadth and range of activity and topics explored that excites me the most about the Festival. But if we go back to thinking about the potential impact that festivals can have, our work with Camden Council on Phoenix Road in Somers Town this year encompasses many of the core values of the Festival. Through a design competition, we selected the London-based interdisciplinary practice NOOMA Studio to reimagine the road during its temporary closure as a street garden for the people of Somers Town. Their design includes installations, greening, pavement painting and a range of activations. The team at NOOMA Studio have worked with local partners including Global Generation, Somers Town Museum – A Space for Us, Maria Fidelis and Regents High secondary schools to create the installations as well as a programme for the weekend which showcases the spirit of the local community.
by Anmol Ahuja Jun 09, 2023
In its 22nd commission and under the French-Lebanese architect’s direction, the 2023 Serpentine Pavilion, À table, transpires to be a space for conversations and cultural exchange.
by Sunena V Maju Jun 08, 2023
The book Brutalist Paris by Nigel Green and Robin Wilson, published by Blue Crow Media, presents the first cohesive study of brutalist architecture in Paris.
by Zohra Khan Jun 05, 2023
In an ongoing exhibition titled London Calling, the Berlin-based architectural illustrator presents a series of drawings that allow the city to speak for itself.
by Dhwani Shanghvi Jun 03, 2023
The landscape and its accompanying architecture for the project is designed to be experienced as a walkthrough with serendipitous encounters with submerged masses.
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