New London Architecture

Public London: Activating the city

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Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the London Festival of Architecture, this publication looks back at some of the momentous projects of the last two decades, from masterplans that have contributed to shaping London’s urban landscape, to small neighbourhood interventions that have dramatically improved the lives of local Londoners.

The publication, exhibition and online project directory explore what constitutes a successful and democratic public realm today, the role of co‑creation and partnerships, and how we can ensure that places are fit‑for‑purpose in the long term.


By Benjamin O’Connor, Director, NLA 

What is public space? When we talk about public realm, placemaking, and building better places… what are we actually talking about? I think it is safe to say that most people think of parks, green spaces and city squares as public spaces, but really the majority of spaces we move through on a daily basis are public and deserve the time, attention, care and funding that goes into the more obvious spaces we dwell in. These include the underpasses, street spaces, interstitial spaces between buildings and all other spaces you inhabit from the moment you open your front door, step off your tube, train or bus, until you sit at your desk. These are the spaces that we need to be thinking of when we talk about public realm strategies and making spaces better for people.

The essence of these spaces of course lies in the people who inhabit them. How can we ensure that their needs and desires are integrated into the projects we undertake? Over the past two decades, there has been a significant shift towards creating people-centric places, beginning with the transformation of Trafalgar Square’s north side into a pedestrian-friendly zone in 2003. This landmark intervention marked a turning point, soon followed by the inaugural London Festival of Architecture in 2004, which has since highlighted numerous projects exemplifying an increasing commitment to quality and a people-first approach in public spaces. From small-scale local initiatives championed by LFA to major developments in London and beyond, these examples showcase best practice in the design and delivery of our public spaces.

Our goal with Public London is to provide a comprehensive guide that aligns with the mission of the NLA community as laid out in the New London Agenda. By bringing people together, we aim to shape better places that meet the evolving needs of their inhabitants. Through this publication, we will explore successful projects and strategies, serving as a testament to the power of thoughtful design in the urban landscape. 

Project Directory

Here we present over 100 case studies and projects that illustrate best practice examples of what constitutes a successful and democratic public realm today, the role of co‑creation and partnerships, and how we can ensure that places are fit‑for‑purpose in the long term. 
View the full directory


4 Foreword
4 The city as a festival, the Festival as a city
5 20 years of public realm activation
6 Looking back
8 Placemakers Toolkit

9 Introduction
10 Common ground
19 Healthy, happy streets
26 Well-rooted
35 Culture on every corner
44 Let it ripple
53 Extended shelf life
58 Shared agenda
64 Looking forward

17 Inclusive public spaces
33 Rewilding the city
42 Art to activate public spaces
51 The role of meanwhile projects in placemaking
63 Powerful partnerships: the key to London's success

66 Glossary
67 Notes
67 Further reading
68 Acknowledgements
69 Profiles

Publication Details

Published 27 June 2024
71 Pages

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