New London Architecture

Let’s Reimagine London

Tuesday 11 June 2024

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LDN Collective founder and CEO Max Farrell discusses the collaboration with NLA on Reimagine London, seeking innovative, sustainable ideas for the city's future with a £10,000 prize fund.

This year is the 5th anniversary of the LDN Collective and during that time we’ve been getting into the ‘ideas’ business. From #ParkPower, which made a series of recommendations for the future of London’s green spaces, to our award-winning entry for the Wolfson Prize ‘planning and designing the hospital of the future’. More recently, our research on Net Zero Neighbourhoods highlighted a number of ways to decarbonise the city.

When Nick McKeogh said that the NLA team were planning an ideas competition, I was keen that the LDN Collective get involved and support it. With the prospect of mayoral and general elections aligning our country’s politics for the first time in 15 years, it seemed like a good time for London to get on the front foot, and to get its mojo back. We collaborated with the NLA to develop the brief for the competition, and I’m excited to see how this pans out over the year ahead, with seminal events like the 20th London Festival of Architecture and a new home for the London Real Estate Forum.

200 years ago, Joseph Bazelgette solved one of the most intractable problems in London (or the ‘Big Stink’ as it was known then) with his underground sewers.  150 years ago, the world’s first underground railway opened as a way of reducing street congestion. London has been the centre of innovation in urban planning and the global capital of architecture ever since, but it seems to have lost it’s way. It has certainly lost ground to other cities in recent years.

With a new mayoral term for Sadiq Khan and people around him like Howard Dawber, formerly of Canary Wharf now Deputy Mayor for Business and Growth, it’s the perfect time to be backing big ideas. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the ill-conceived ideas the previous Mayor backed, like the Garden Bridge or Thames Estuary Airport, which were never developed in the ‘bottom up’ way that we are proposing, or subject to the same level of expert scrutiny. We want to let a hundred flowers bloom, with imaginative and deliverable ideas ready to be taken forwards with the backing of Londoners.

The NLA recently put forward the excellent New London Agenda, which will be used by the judges, and there will be a £10,000 prize fund for the best new ideas. Members of the public will be able to vote, and a People’s Choice prize will be awarded. In September, the international jury will meet to decide remaining prizes including a Young Londoners Prize. All shortlisted ideas will go on display at a public exhibition, and up to 10 will be presented PechaKucha style.

All ideas are welcome. Whether they are city-wide, like the campaign to make London the world’s first National Park City, or place-based like Imperial College’s vision for London’s Silicon Valley, or the River Thames as a ‘drone super highway’. One idea I’m particularly fond of is Russell Curtis’s proposal to use some of London’s golf courses (we have nearly 100 of them) to help solve the housing crisis, increasing biodiversity and accessibility at the same time.

We are particularly grateful to the sponsor Derwent, who are well placed to be the custodians of big ideas. I was intrigued to hear recently that their London buildings are powered by a solar farm they have built in Scotland, for example, and they singlehandedly invented the term ‘White Collar Factory’, pioneering the reuse of industrial buildings for contemporary workspace.

We need big ideas to tackle the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced, from housing to cost of living and structural inequalities to climate change. We need to be on a wartime footing as this will be the biggest fight of our lives. As Greg Clark said at the launch of the New London Agenda, we need a new social contract (another powerful idea). So ask not what your city can do for you…ask what you can do for your city! You might just win £10,000 in the process…

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