Hi Dominique, firstly, how are you?
I am well, thank you, though these are difficult times.
London has seen a lot of transformation in the last decade, what trends have you noticed through judging the New London Awards?
Yes, it’s been really fascinating, many things have changed. Originally, we had just a few classical categories housing, offices etc. As time went on, it became less immediately obvious which category a project should be submitted for; we saw increasingly more submissions that were mixed use development and urban strategies with evolving short-term and long-term actions. This led to the introduction of interesting new categories, to allow us to cover things like homelessness and tactical urbanism.
One of the things that makes the New London Awards unique is the celebration of both built and unbuilt projects. Why do you think this is useful?
It's important because the unbuilt categories show a future. It allows you to hear the music of what people are thinking about the future, and how they challenge the now. It's really great to see proposals submitted in the un-built category and then 2 years later they are submitted as built. Cities are running like a wheel, so it's interesting to be able to review the things that are finished and things that are just starting. The New London Awards are useful because they celebrate not just architecture, it is about the whole system that is a city, it shows what is happening in all aspects and showcases diversity as well as quality.
What’s your take on how the current crisis will influence the way we approach city making?
The current situation means classical office use buildings have been closed, flats are occupied full time, and in between you have mixed use buildings that are being occupied in different ways. For example, in Paris school kitchens are now being used to prepare food for the hospital workers; it's a more open system where people are asking what do we need and where do we have to do it?
I think the trend towards town planning that includes mixed-use buildings, public space, meanwhile and temporary uses of space will continue. The Covid-19 situation will also make us think more carefully about the daily lifecycles of buildings. This could ultimately change the traditional measure of real estate value, putting greater value on flexibility-of-use.
Do you think this will change our approach to design long-term?
Yes, I think it really will because we have several challenges to tackle. We may now want to be less dense; we also want to be sustainable but building a zero-carbon building can be very expensive. To reuse existing buildings is much less expensive especially in the old cities of Europe. There is a great opportunity here and, over the years, I’ve noticed a growing quality in the re-use and retrofit submissions for the New London Awards.
These trends towards re-use and flexibility are an acceleration rather than a shift. Perhaps a move towards putting greater value on building flexibility is more of a shift, putting more value to places that are more flexible and more value to places where you can both live and work.
Another area that I think is really interesting is how the Covid-19 crisis will change the way we design for certain crisis outcomes, for example whether buildings operate without electricity. In lots of buildings this would be a big problem. In smaller houses you can still manage without electricity and water, and stay in the home, but if you're in a big tower it's impossible.
You are one of our International Jury and based in Paris. Have you any observations on urban development in London vs Paris to share with us?
Cities are so different. What I find very interesting is to see innovation in the context of each city. The history of each city is different, they're not made in the same way and people don't live in the same way. Paris has a very dense centre and then suburbs, you, in London go very early out of the office, and we go very late. You’re are allowed to swim in the Serpentine all time, we are not yet allowed to swim in the bois de Boulogne and bois de Vincennes pools. It is interesting to me that an old tradition in one city can seem like an innovation in another city.
Every city situation is different, and I think Covid shows this very well. It highlights that the place where you live, and what you have immediately around you is really important and the basis of creating nice cities.
Dominque Alba is an Architect. She worked in Jean Nouvel’s agency, then co-created the Roux-Alba agency. When Delanoë became Mayor of Paris, she joined his advisors’ team, focusing on urban renewing and architecture. She became CEO of the Pavillon de l’Arsenal. She joined APUR, the city planning agency of Paris, in 2008 and became its CEO in 2012.
Deadline for submissions to the New London Awards is Friday 29 May. Enter here