Discovering the London Festival of Architecture 2022

In conversation with Rosa Rogina, Director, London Festival of Architecture, STIR explores the various aspects of the month-long city festival.

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.

The Phoenix Road Performing Gardens, Somers Town. Designed by NOOMA Studio, the Phoenix Road Performing Gardens envisions a street garden for the people of Somers Town in Camden, North-West London, facilitating performance, showcasing local spirit, and exploring alternative scenarios for the road as a platform for the community to perform, meet and exchange | London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
The Phoenix Road Performing Gardens, Somers Town. Designed by NOOMA Studio, the Phoenix Road Performing Gardens envisions a street garden for the people of Somers Town in Camden, North-West London, facilitating performance, showcasing local spirit, and exploring alternative scenarios for the road as a platform for the community to perform, meet and exchange Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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.

The Park through New Eyes, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford. An interactive introduction to parkour with a craft demo led by the London-based Parkour Generations, along with the London Development Authority. The event roamed across the different areas of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, purpose-built for the 2012 Olympics, exploring ideas around risk, inclusivity and ownership of public space, as well as introducing participants to a few new moves| London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
The Park through New Eyes, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford. An interactive introduction to parkour with a craft demo led by the London-based Parkour Generations, along with the London Development Authority. The event roamed across the different areas of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, purpose-built for the 2012 Olympics, exploring ideas around risk, inclusivity and ownership of public space, as well as introducing participants to a few new moves Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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.

The Mobile Arboretum, Aldgate. Along with its sister installation at Cheapside, the Mobile Arboretum is inspired by the collective history of London’s markets, from the medieval produce and poultry markets of Cheapside to the buzzing fabric markets of Petticoat Lane. The project, by London-based landscape, art and architecture practice Wayward, plays with the idea of an urban forest, with a series of market carts or barrows filled with saplings, taking care of these young trees until it is time to move them to new homes, creating a legacy of urban forest at schools and community gardens in and around the neighbourhood| London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
The Mobile Arboretum, Aldgate. Along with its sister installation at Cheapside, the Mobile Arboretum is inspired by the collective history of London’s markets, from the medieval produce and poultry markets of Cheapside to the buzzing fabric markets of Petticoat Lane. The project, by London-based landscape, art and architecture practice Wayward, plays with the idea of an urban forest, with a series of market carts or barrows filled with saplings, taking care of these young trees until it is time to move them to new homes, creating a legacy of the urban forest at schools and community gardens in and around the neighbourhood Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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".

Pews and Perches, Royal Docks, Newham. An ongoing collaboration between LFA and the Royal Docks, the Pews and Perches design competition is open to emerging practitioners, and results in a playful series of bespoke public benches. These celebrate the Royal Docks – a district that has undergone major regeneration in recent years – transforming it as a place to sit, rest and play, while also highlighting the potential impact of small-scale interventions in the public realm | London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
Pews and Perches, Royal Docks, Newham. An ongoing collaboration between LFA and the Royal Docks, the Pews and Perches design competition is open to emerging practitioners, and results in a playful series of bespoke public benches. These celebrate the Royal Docks – a district that has undergone major regeneration in recent years – transforming it as a place to sit, rest and play, while also highlighting the potential impact of small-scale interventions in the public realm Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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.

Over Here, Victoria Station. A multi-coloured bike rack designed by Iain Jamieson, Over Here is intended to help resolve a common commuter stress for cyclists at London’s Victoria Station, while promoting sustainable ways of travelling round the capital. When parking up, the bike’s front wheel pushes a counterweight, which in turn moves forward to indicate when a stand is in use. Both the parking markers and the colourful backdrop have been designed by the artist Zoë Power, whose colourful aesthetic brings some much-needed brightness to the grey backdrop | London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
Over Here, Victoria Station. A multi-coloured bike rack designed by Iain Jamieson, Over Here is intended to help resolve a common commuter stress for cyclists at London’s Victoria Station, while promoting sustainable ways of travelling round the capital. When parking up, the bike’s front wheel pushes a counterweight, which in turn moves forward to indicate when a stand is in use. Both the parking markers and the colourful backdrop have been designed by the artist Zoë Power, whose colourful aesthetic brings some much-needed brightness to the grey backdrop Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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.

Rosa Rogina, Director of London Festival of Architecture | London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
Rosa Rogina, Director of London Festival of Architecture Image: Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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.

Olympic Park Parkour by LDA Design | London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
Olympic Park Parkour by LDA Design Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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.

Act, the RA Architecture Symposium | London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
Act, the RA Architecture Symposium Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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.

Matt+Fiona Act-ivate | London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
Matt+Fiona Act-ivate Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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. 

Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture | London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
Matt+Fiona Act-ivate LFA22 Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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. 

Over Here by Iain Jamieson and Zoe Power | London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
Over Here by Iain Jamieson and Zoe Power Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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.

Somers Town Acts | London Festival of Architecture | Rosa Rogina | STIRworld
Somers Town Acts Image: Luke O’Donovan; Courtesy of London Festival of Architecture

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.

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