Dispatch from London Festival of Architecture

Arup and John Robertson's proposal
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Woods Bagot, Brookfield and Hilson Moran's scheme
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Gensler's proposal
Arup and John Robertson's proposal
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The City of London is nothing if not a survivor. A new exhibit pays homage to the Square Mile’s uncanny ability to persevere, from Roman times through to future visions for London in 2050.

 exhibit is situated in the massive Walbrook building. Designed by Foster + Partners, this stunning glass–and–steel structure stands in the heart of London’s financial district, an area that retains its largely medieval street pattern. Nearby, a recently unearthed Roman shrine to Mithras rubs up against the site of the firm’s future headquarters for Bloomberg.

Inside the Walbrook, the exhibit plays up this historical juxtaposition with references to pestilence, fires, the blitz and IRA bombings. One of its highlights is a look at how Christopher Wren’s post-fire designs for a modern, open-plan city were rejected by inhabitants who preferred a return to their more medieval-style rabbit warren abodes (making land title easier to re-establish).

It also contains a series of futuristic visions for London in 2050. That of Arup and John Robertson transforms London into an emerald city, with islands of green space dotting the Thames and shiny new buildings like Piano’s Shard gleaming with promise.

The Woods BagotBrookfield and Hilson Moran scheme calls for vertical expansion, in the form of over a million square metres of new high-rise office space in the city’s eastern cluster. The taller, thinner, more sustainable buildings will create new open space for the public at street level by setting back the building’s frame from the site’s boundary.

The Gensler proposal for the new Exchange Quarter, with its curvilinear all-white buildings that open up onto landscaped terraces and waterways, recalls scenes from the mid 70’s sci-fi film. When I mention this to a Londoner taking in the exhibit, asking him how he imagines his city will be in four decades, he comments that it might be more like Soilent Green.

But just as naysayers predict the upcoming Olympics will result in a crowded apocalyptic chaos, just as many believe it will be yet another triumph the city takes in stride. The Developing City offers an insightful look at Londominium in all its grit and its glory.

The Developing City in on until September 9 at The Walbrook Building, 37A Walbrook. 

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