New London Architecture

The centre v the suburbs

Friday 25 November 2022

What are the drivers that bring us back to the centre and push us out to the suburbs of our global cities?

London and Los Angeles have more in common than previously thought, KAP Studio concluded at the latest City Dialogue event.
Michael Katsibas of KAP Studios spoke about LA’s ability to weather Covid, with its warmer climate and plentiful open spaces. Like London, LA has very distinct neighbourhoods within it in which it was possible to live and work during Covid without having to commute to a different ‘centre’. LA also picked up new inhabitants, benefitting from the exodus from New York as people moved away from the density of Manhattan to enjoy more space and bigger houses with outdoor space. Building rules and zoning codes in LA support the development of large, single-family homes and new mixed-use communities, with room to grow and thrive, and focus on more personal areas of satisfaction beyond work. This has enabled further change with LA developing a robust outdoor culture, with more outdoor dining, animated streetscapes, a boom in cycling and less emphasis on the car-focused commute.
By comparison, Ben Adams of BAA spoke about how Covid has shaped the evolution of London. Where LA may have benefitted from an influx of New Yorkers, London experienced an exodus away from the centre as people changed their work patterns and took advantage of the long-term possibilities of remote working. The current position is an interesting one – commuting times are more staggered giving a less pressured, more pleasant rhythm to the working day, with more individual choice setting the agenda.
The built environment agenda is dominated by the quest for net zero carbon but also by a new approach to what good development looks like. Convenience, flexibility and ‘customer choice’ are the drivers as we attempt to lure workers back to the city centre. Buildings need to be distinctive, attractive and a pleasure to be in. The location has become more important than ever: the right sort of buildings on the right street with the right sort of amenities. Maybe the stories of the great exodus from London have been exaggerated, and certainly, the over-subscription of new residential developments that tick all those boxes would suggest otherwise.
For architects there is a new and exciting challenges of designing quality homes and offices that draw people back. Sustainable living is on the rise, which also means flexibility and supporting a variety of working environments. Post-Covid London is adjusting – not going back to what it was but evolving into something even better. 
Jack Nathan, of Runyon Group, gave the LA developer's view, reiterating the idea that Covid gave us the chance for a reset. LA is a distinct city with huge potential. As a collection of neighbourhoods, it is different from the other cities and offers the opportunity to work at a different scale and support small businesses. Jack lyricised about the mixed-use communities springing up next to metro stations. At their best, theses spaces mixed unique retail space with great landscaping, family play space under elevated rail lines, and creative offices stacked on top.
Kerry Gibbs in London and Josh McCrow in LA of at Gardiner & Theobald reflected-on master planning large communities in both cities and flexing with changing times as multi-decade projects evolve, emerge and mature.
Yolanda Barnes of UCL spoke about London’s distinctive suburbs, offering compassion and metrics on homelessness in LA and London, and the need to reach our most vulnerable communities through counsel, healthcare, mental health and employment alongside the most basic need for shelter.

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