Category Archives: London urban design

Should London be a National Park?

The current proposal for London to be a National Park appears, to me, ill-conceived. It is a great city and its open space planning needs staffing and funding, but I can’t see sufficient kinship with the national park concept. Let’s recall the history of the concept. It began in America as an idea for giving the new world something of similar cultural significance to the ‘monuments’ of the old world. So they chose tracts of unspoiled scenery. This appealed to the British. We did not have any unspoiled scenery so we chose areas of high scenic quality instead. Some parts of London undoubtedly do have high scenic quality – but they are already designated as conservation areas and enjoy protection within the planning system. What London does need is a Landscape Authority to get on with work on the All London Green Grid. If London were to have something more on like a National Park Authority it should be a Thames Landscape Agency, as argued in the above video. The Port of London Authority is making a mess of managing the river for anything other than commercial traffic.

 

Swan upping 2014. Could the swans and the uppers be attracted back to the Thames in Central London?


Reading about Swan Upping, I found that in the early 20th century the ceremony began in Central London. It now starts at Sunbury-on-Thames because no swans nest on the river in Central London and few swans are seen there. This is a pity. The river landscape would be more beautiful if there were swans to be seen. The Thames, is far the most important landscape feature in Central London, and in 1496, the Venetian Ambassador’s secretary wrote that ‘it is truly a beautiful thing to behold one or two thousand tame swans upon the River Thames, as I, and also your Magnificence have seen, which are eaten by the English like ducks and geese’. We could get the swans back by feeding them, preferably with vegetable matter but a little bread would do little harm. But could the swans be persuaded to nest on floating islands, as they do on the island in Brayford Pool (Lincoln?). See webpage on The re-introduction of swans to Central London.

The Swan Island (with a willow tree) and the recently made floating islands in Brayford Pool (Lincoln)

The Swan Island (with a willow tree) and the recently made floating islands in Brayford Pool (Lincoln)


Otherwise, this may prove to be a video of CENTRAL LONDON’S LAST SWAN

Thames foreshore and beaches – the need for a landscape strategy

The previous video argued that London’s Thames beaches are much safer than the beaches below the Seven Sisters and Dover white cliffs. This video looks in more detail at the availability of public stairs down to the foreshore. They have been in decline for 3 centuries and the twentieth century was the period of sharpest decline. ‘The Authorities’ by which I mean the London boroughs and the Port of London Authority, discouraged access for reasons of health and safety. If logic ruled, these Authorities would be even more opposed to horse riding, boxing, crossing roads, cycling and foreign travel. Fortunately, logic guides this blog – which therefore calls for a landscape strategy for the visual, ecological, archaeological and functional aspects of London’s Thames foreshore and beaches.
The Health and Safety Executive believes that ‘complying with health and safety regulations was often used as a “convenient excuse” for organisations to justify unnecessary decisions.’

The landscape architecture of London's beaches and foreshore


Londoner’s require a right to roam on London’s beaches and, wherever possible, a public access route along the entire foreshore.

The Port of London Authority PLA does not encourage access because it was set up to manage the port, commercially, for maritime shipping. It gives safety considerations as a reason for not spending money on public goods. But the Seven Sisters Country Park is a much more dangerous place and is managed for recreation, conservation and wildlife. My suggestion is to transfer the amenity responsibilities of the PLA to a Landscape Agency and to bring both bodies within the GLA Greater London Authority family of public authorities. Construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel will make the water much cleaner and the beaches more desirable.

See also:

Has the Olympic Development Authority designed a new London airport in the QE Olympic Park

First 747 comes in to land on the main runway at London's Olympic Airport

A 747 comes in to land on the main runway at London’s Olympic Airport. The Terminal, designed by Zaha Hadid, was previously an Aquatic Centre

.
A 747 pilot mistook a footpath in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for a runway and the Aquatics Centre for an Airport Terminal. The passengers disembarked safely. After a short walk to Stratford International Station many remarked that it was a much easier journey into London than from Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick airports. A journalist on board contacted the Civil Aviation Agency. No one was available for interview but a spokesperson issued a written statement saying that the plane must have ‘come in below the radar’. Another spokesperson, for the Olympic Development Authority, said they wanted to generate revenue from the Park and it was only a trial. One wonders.

London's Royal Parks Greenway should have the Lost Garden of Whitehall as a link to the South Bank's Thames Greenway


London has two excellent greenways: one of them was planned by Henry VIII and runs through the Royal Parks. The other was planned by a landscape architect (Sir Patrick Abercrombie) and runs on the South Bank of the River Thames from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge. The video explains the histories of the routes and how the Lost Garden of Whitehall Palace could and should be a link between the two greenways.
London’s geography is confusing for the pedestrian and the cyclist. A 6-mile London Greenway, running from Kensington Palace to Tower Bridge would create a great east-west spatial corridor, ‘green’ in the sense of environmentally wonderful and a ‘way’ in the sense of a traffic-free pedestrian concourse passing near many of London’s best tourist attractions: the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre, Tate Britain, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the Lost Garden of Whitehall Palace, St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace and Gardens.

Lost Garden Whitehall Palace

Whitehall Palace’s Lost Garden could link the Royal Parks Greenway to the London Thames Greenway


The Ministry of Defense (the building on the right in the photograph below) occupies the site of the main buildings of Henry VIII’s Whitehall Palace. The architect preserved a fragment of Queen Mary’s Stairs and the Ministry kindly allow public access to what was Queen Mary’s Garden. We could admire them even more if the parterre’s shown on Knyff’s drawing of the garden were to be restored. Sadly but understandably, the Ministry keeps Henry VIII’s Whitehall Palace Wine Cellar for private use.
Queen Mary's lost Whitehall Palace Garden

Queen Mary’s lost Whitehall Palace Garden

London's proposed new Garden Bridge

London's proposed Garden Bridge (image courtesy Arup)

London’s proposed Garden Bridge (image courtesy Arup)


Let us join the chorus of support for London’s Garden Bridge. The government and the Greater London Authority have promised to pay half the cost – so finding the rest should be a formality. The idea was conceived by the star actress Joanna Lumley in 1998 (she is also a patron of the Druk White Lotus School). But her idea slept for 14 years, until TfL asked for ideas about new ways of crossing the Thames. Thomas Heatherwick, working with Arup (coincidentally the architects for the Druk School), published the above design last summer – and half the funding was promised this month. The Garden Bridge will be 367 metres long and 30 metres wide at its widest point. It will connect a point near Temple station to a point near Gabriel’s Wharf on the South Bank Centre.
As an idea, it is wonderfully superior to Hungerford Bridge and, of course, to the London Eye. But what all three projects teach us is THE DESIGN PROFESSIONS SHOULD NOT WAIT TO BE ASKED. If designers, especially landscape architects (because of their concern with the public realm), have a good idea then they should draw it and publish it.
Useful links re the Garden Bridge:
TfL consultation on the Garden Bridge
Garden Bridge Trust website (with video)

Hermitage Wharf, Joseph Conrad, Norman Foster and the River Thames Landscape

hermitage_wharf
The above photograph from Tower Bridge was taken yesterday on my way to the cycle petition hand-in. It struck me as a real Joseph Conrad view of the river and Andrew Cowan Architects design for Hermitage Wharf looks much better than Foster’s design for Albion Riverside. Then I remembered having written a critical comment on Hermitage Wharf a few years ago. Checking it, I was pleased to find that I had praised the architecture and that it was the wretchedly dull riverside space I had criticised. Maybe Tower Hamlets’ planners mandated a bad landscape design because of the South Bank type crowds they were anticipating?
hermitage-wharf1

Lord Norman Foster's Thames-side Boom Boxes

We are pleased to publish the hitherto-unseen concept which so evidently inspired Lord Norman Foster’s pair of Thames Boomboxes. As previously agreed, Lord Norman does ‘an awfully good box‘. His heart is in the right place: he speaks with enthusiasm about urban design and works with good landscape architects. The problem, I fear, is that his head is in the wrong place. He sees buildings as objects, not as the creators of space. His own office (the left-hand building, above) is a fine box. But, like a hifi box or another consumer product, it could fit equally well in any context. There is nothing-London and nothing-Thames about it or the curvy adjoining residential boombox – except of course for its wannabe name: The Albion. The above photograph was taken on a warm day in late summer. Re-visited last week a howling gale was being funneled through the arch under the Albion. The ambient temperature was 11C and, with wind-chill, felt like -1C. So, while perfectly able to admire Foster and Partners architecture, I condemn this example of the firm’s the landscape architecture and urban design. The half-doughnut building faces due north, so that its wings keep out all sunlight except for mid-day in mid-summer. This is not my idea of good conditions for enjoying a good outdoor life beside a great river.

Useful info for the mayor and leader of Royal Greenwich Borough Council

Stupid landscape architecture and mediocre architecture in Woolwich, London

Dear Councillor Angela Cornforth and Councillor Chris Roberts
Respectfully, I draw the following points to your attention:

    • You were elected to represent the people of Greenwich
    • The people you represent do not want to pay for mowing useless grass

. They prefer gardens.

  • The people you represent wash their clothes. After that, they want to dry them – but not in a communal space (inset photo, bottom right)
  • The people you represent ride bicycles. They and do not want them to be stolen and they do not want to hang them from the Juliet balconies you have allowed to be built (inset photo, top right).
  • Your council’s riverside path is 36 feet wide (=10,973m). It has hardly any users. This is a waste of land. The heavily used riverside footpath in Maritime Greenwich is called the Five Foot Path and is 5′ = 1.524m wide.
  • The buildings your council allowed to be built c1995 look like relics of the 1930s with double glazing. I believe Councillor Roberts was in charge of Planning at that time. Past errors should be rectified
  • Your council still employs a lot of town planners. They have powers which could be used to secure good urban and landscape design. Since they continue to permit unustainably bad urban landscape design, you should sack them.

The reason your Council should have landscape architects on its staff is not to do design work. It is to ensure that planning applications have appropriate landscape conditions attached to them – so that public goods can be secured through the planning process. The town planners who do this work at present do not have the  necessary skills in design, construction, planting or the social use of small outdoor space in urban areas. Think about it: if either of you has a heart attack, do you want a gynecologist to look after you? If your car needs to be repaired, would you take it to a vet? If your house has subsidence, would you cal for a decorator?  I guess not, so why not employ landscape architects for landscape architectural work?

Yours truly

Tom

The skyline, architecture and landscape of the River Thames in Central London


I see the Banks of the Thames as a place where, during the twentieth century, unimaginative planning and selfishly mediocre architecture often conspired to produce designs better suited to a rundown provincial town than to the heart of a great city. Skylines, landscape and architecture should be considered together, looking to the past and looking to the future. ‘Protecting’ views is important but insufficient. Proposals for ‘high buildings’ ‘tall buildings’ and ‘towers’ should be viewed in context, never in isolation. Studies of their visual and environmental impact require scenic quality assessments, a policy context and full testing on a digital model of the city. As the below quotations reveal, London’s river is both a Place of Darkness and a Place of Light.
William Blake, in 1794, found ‘in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe’ where ‘the Thames does flow’.
William Wordsworth, 8 years later found the Thames a river of beauty and romance. He declared that ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’ (1802).
Joseph Conrad, in 1899, knew the Thames as a place of history, romance, toil, darkness and light. He saw London as ‘the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth’, a place which had known ‘the dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires’ and was yet ‘one of the dark places of the earth.’
Since 1945 property developers have seen the Thames as a place to make a quick buck
Since 2000, some wealthy immigrants have viewed riverside apartments as great places to launder the ill-gotten gains of financial scams and miscellaneous corruption.

Recent blog posts about London’s River Thames skyline landscape

See also:  Rem Koolhaas on London’s skyline. Koolhaas remarks that ‘London has always changed dramatically and it’s still is not a very dramatic city. So it can go on. I think that in London whatever you do you do not disturb an earlier coherence. You do not disturb an earlier utopia like in Paris. It can stand a lot of development without suffering’.  I read this comment as a polite way of saying that most of London’s riverside is pretty dull, as the above video shows, it has its moments – but not enough of them.

The 122 Leadenhall Cheesegrater and protecting London's skyline landscape view of St Paul's Cathedral from Fleet Street

St Paul's Cathedral, the Fenchurch Cheesgrater and the London Skyline from Fleet Street

London has had controls on tall buildings since the Great Fire of 1666 and views of St Paul’s Cathedral have been protected since Faraday House was built in 1938. A recent consequence of this protection is that No 122 Leadenhall Street, dubbed the Cheesgrater, was shaped like a wedge of cheese. The planners and the designers (Rogers Stirk Harbour Architects), sought to lessen the impact on the much-loved view of St Paul’s Cathedral for those traveling east along Fleet Street. As the above photographs show, the west elevation is shaped like a church spire on its south face and a rectangular block on its north face. This reduced the floor area by almost 50% (and the rental income by approx £4.5m/year). I commend the sacrifice of profit to beauty but is the result beautiful? My answers are (1) the north and south elevations of the Cheesegrater drive an ugly wedge into the City’s once-harmonious skyline. So the endeavour was worthy but the result is only a partial success. (2) The most important street view of St Paul’s Cathedral, from Ludgate Hill, would have been unaffected by an any-shaped building at 122 Leadenhall Street (3) I would prefer a spire, in keeping with London’s traditions, or a curvilinear building to harmonise with the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie (also known as Vinoly’s Bulge). Please consider the following questions, with the above images from left to right:

  • Was the skyline better before the addition?
  • Is the Cheese Grater a good shape for this skyline?
  • Would a rectangular block be OK?
  • Is this a place for a ‘Pepper Pot Skyscraper’?
  • Would a Shard-type spire be more in keeping with London’s historic skyline?

THE most important surviving views of St Paul’s Cathedral are from the River Thames embankments and Waterloo Bridge. The Greater London Authority GLA should commission a digital model of Central London for use in generating accurate perspectives of development proposals. They need to be seen in relation to each other and to the existing urban landscape. And/or, they could ask David Watson to produce a complete verified photomontage and ZVI analysis. As the photograph below shows, the architecture and planning professions have allowed a chaotic skyline to appear. Quite possibly they are surprised and embarrassed by what has happened – and puzzled as to how a better outcome might have been achieved.

St Paul's Cathedral, the Heron Tower, Tower 42, the Gherkin, a Blob, the Cheesegrater and the Walkie Talkie - seen from Waterloo Bridge. Simon Jenkins and many other commentators view this skyline as

The view of St Paul's Cathedral from Ludgate Hill is unaffected by the Cheese Grater. Thames views are much affected

Paul Finch, consultant editor of the Architects’ Journal and Architectural Review, commends the public space which will be created below the building and summarizes his view of 122 Leadenhall Street as follows: ‘All in all, the Cheesegrater is a speculative office development of extraordinary quality, built in an exemplary way by Laing O’Rourke, with engineering by Arup. It sets standards that few are likely to emulate.’
Finch read history at Cambridge and has edited BD, the AJ and the AR. A history degree should give him impartiality but a life in architecture could be counter-productive. On high buildings in London my views are closer to those of another Cambridge man, Monty Don, who is a scion of the architectural Wyatts and the marmalade Keillers. Reflecting on the protected views of low-rise Paris from the Arc de Triomphe, Don is delighted that Paris ‘has resisted the indiscriminate spread of skyscrapers. There is nothing wrong with these per se, after all, Manhattan is stunningly beautiful precisely because of them, but they diminish any otherwise magnificent buildings they adjoin. They destroy the scale. Look south-east and the city is flat-topped, the individual roofs of buildings smoothed to one harmonious plateau’ A French garden journey, Simon and Schuster, 2013 p227). But could Paris have become the world’s financial capital if this policy had not been instigated? If they had also switched to the use of English, possibly.

Note: I have included a pepper pot shape in the above montages in response to one of the conclusions from the 2001-2 House of Commons report on Tall Buildings: ‘Tall buildings should be clustered rather than pepper-potted across a city’. ‘Pepper-potting’ can refer both to the shape of a pepper grinder and to the sprinkled distribution of the pepper which falls from its jaws.

Sunlight, tall buildings and the City of London's new urban landscape architecture


I had a short walk and ride around the City of London at the weekend. It is an unusual place and, though I have never had the experience, thought about being  in a crevasse. The City has a medieval street pattern overlaid on a Roman street pattern. It can’t be changed and land values are sky high. So they keep building higher and with steel and glass. You might think this would produce gloomy canyons but, in fact, there is a phenomenon akin to total internal reflection, as in a ‘sun tube’, which brings light down to street level. The odd aspect of this is that the light is normally less-bright than sunlight and has a ghostly quality (as when sun shines through ice). An exception results from the Walkie Talkie.

As it neared completion in 2013 Rafael Viñoly Architects design for 20 Fenchurch Street began to act as a solar mirror. It focused so much sun in the pavements that it became possible to fry eggs. Londoners therefore changed its name to Walkie Talkie Scorchie – though Fryscraper is a popular alternative. The above video begins where Lovat Lane runs south from Eastcheap – so the sunlight is coming from the north! It shows the once-dark alley blazing with solar glare. Viñoly should have known better: he had the same problem with the Vdara skyscraper in Las Vegas. The effect is known as a ‘death ray’ but, properly directed, the sunlight reflected from tall buildings can be a welcome addition to dark pedestrian spaces.

 Viñoly’s response to the problem has been to point his fingers and toes at other consultants. He whines that [in London] ‘the superabundance of consultants and sub consultants dilute the responsibility of the designers until you don’t know where you are’ so that ‘architects aren’t architects anymore’. In truth, he did not have the right consultants. What he needed was a physicist to calculate what would happen and a landscape architect to make best-possible use of the reflected light. Gillespies are working on the design of the Fenchurch Street Skygarden and I am sure they would have been pleased to help out with the street level design problem.

Architects (notably Richard Rogers) often argue that high buildings save the green belt, save on transport infrastructure and are good for sustainability. All true but this does not mean tall buildings are always best. Simon Jenkins tried to discuss them at the RIBA  and reached the conclusion that ‘Talking towers with London architects is like talking disarmament with the National Rifle Association. A skyscraper seems every builder’s dream. At a Royal Institute of British Architects seminar on the subject last April, I faced an audience almost entirely of architects who treated any criticism of tall buildings as nothing to do with aesthetics or urban culture but to do with denying them money.’  An expert House of Commons committee (2001-2) and the City’s Chief Planning Officer (Peter Rees) argue that high buildings are unnecessary and undesirable – because similar densities can be achieved by other means.

The planning and design of tall buildings should form part of an imaginative scenic conception of the future urban landscapes they will help create. Conservation is not enough. Innovation is not enough. Past and future concepts must be brought into harmony. This requires design imagination.

Landscape and green open space planning strategy in London

Richmond exemplifies the best in London Open Space Planning for London parks and green space strategy
Richmond exemplifies the best in London Open Space Planning – and can inspire a new green space infrastructure strategy

The Gardenvisit.com website has a history of, and commentary upon, the planning of parks, park systems, public open space and green infrastructure in London. It was written and published about ten years ago and is due for an update. While this is in hand, we offer links to several pdf documents:

The diagrams, below, show the open space/green infrastructure diagrams from the Country of London Plan and the 1991 Green Strategy.  From 1951 to 1991 London open space planning was dominated by the modernist idea of an open space deficiency – which should be corrected by a hierarchy of small, medium and large parks. The odd, and unstated, implication of the ‘deficiency’ concept is that there should be large-scale demolitions in the London Borough of Islington (which has 0.011ha per 1000 population) and large-scale building on open space in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (which has 13 ha per 1000 population). I’d like to see the results of public consultation on these ideas – they are wealthy boroughs with highly articulate residents. In 2013 the average house price was £545,301 in Islington and in £614,633 in Richmond. Could the profit on selling park land in Richmond could go to buying park land in Islington? Or was the concept of open space deficiency stupid in 1951 and absurd in 2013? One-word comments welcome!

Abercrombie’s idea that open spaces should be connected slept from 1943-1991 but has been revived and is now embodied in the idea of making a ‘Green Grid’. This term appeared in the Thames Gateway South Essex Green Grid Strategy and is now formalised in the All London Green Grid. Personally, I would rather it was described as a Green Web. Its primary geometries should be more circular and centripetal than rectangular. As a Germanic word, used to describe the product of weaving, a ‘web’ entails the use of overlapping strands (as in the green gtrategy diagram, below). The concept also gains from association with the spiders and caterpillars, which make organic and non-rectangular webs of great strength and flexibility, and from other biological use to describe ‘a tissue or membrane in an animal body or in a plant’. Also in 1991, 1991   Tim Berners-Lee gave ‘web’ another useful connotation. He wrote that ‘The web contains documents in many formats. Those documents which are 
hypertext,  (real or virtual) contain links to other documents, or places  within documents’. Comparably, I think of a Green Web as having overlapping strands which inter-link different kinds of space which are green in the sense of ‘good from an environmental point of view’. Some of the links and spaces should be green in the sense of ‘vegetated’. Others should be water bodies, urban squares, streets and cycleways – which may, or may not, contain green plants.

London Open Space Plan, Park System and Green Infrastructure Stragety

London Open Space Plan, Park System and Green Infrastructure Stragety

 

Is Grannary Square London's finest new public open space?

An Architect’s Journal comment welcomes Grannary Square as ‘London’s finest new public space’. So, many congratulations to the designers: Townshend Landscape Architects. It opened as a public open space in 2012 and had a great season in 2013 because of the fine summer weather.  Rory Olcayto rates it a better contribution to King’s Cross than the work of its panoply of big name architects (John McAslan + Partners, PRP,  MaccreanorLavington,  Glenn Howells,   Carmody Groarke,   Stanton Williams,  David Chipperfield,  Allies & Morrison,   AHMM,  Feix & Merlin, etc). Olcayto could have added that Grannary Square is likely to outlive ALL the buildings – just as St James’s Park has, so far, outlived Whitehall Palace by 300 years.

I see the design as a great start on what may become a great public open space. The design is strong and simple. The water feature is big and bold. The grove of trees with unfixed chairs and tables is a welcome homage to W H Whyte. The artificial grass steps, facing the sun and the canal, are a great success.  All good. Grannary Square is a little blank and empty – but can be expected to fill up with people and uses as Argent’s King’s Cross Development gathers steam.

As I was pressing the button to take the photograph, below, a distraught mother ran to me and cried ‘Excuse me – why are you photographing my children?’. She accepted my explanation and said that her husband was a photographer and often had similar complaints. I asked why she was troubled. ‘I don’t know’ she said ‘I just feel that it is my job to protect my children’. It reminds one of primitive peoples’ idea that something belonging to them them has been ‘taken’ when the camera clicks – and of girls who both want to be looked at and do not want to be looked at.  Lin Yutang commented that ‘All women’s dresses, in every age and country, are merely variations on the eternal struggle between the admitted desire to dress and the unadmitted desire to undress’. Do mother’s want their children to be admired?
The zany zig-zag is an installation by the Swiss artist Felice Varini and is entitled Across the Buildings. I believe it will only there in 2013 and will be sorry when it goes. See http://vimeo.com/kingscrosscouk/varini

Is King George VII an auspicious name for urban design and open space planning?

Will King George VII be good for urban design and landscape architecture?

So the Royal Babe will be called George. Most of Britain’s King Georges have been uninterested in parks, gardens and urban design. The significant exception is King George IV, about whom the BBC comments ‘The real George was certainly both a drinker and womaniser who ate too much – the Times labelled him an “inveterate voluptuary” – but also an imaginative town planner, an ambitious patron of the arts and, most probably, not an idiot.’ As Prince Regent he supported and promoted London’s most ambitious urban landscape design scheme: the route from St James’s Park to Regent’s Park – which influenced the planning of Adelaide’s park belt. So let us pray that George VII takes after George IV in some respects but not in other respects!

Would a future queen have been better for the urban landscape?

Gardenvisit.com welcomes the Royal Babe. Hurrah boys, hurrah!
The boys are due a turn on Britain’s throne but would a royal girl have been better for the urban landscape? The two Elizabeths and Victoria did very well and I hope no one will claim superiority for one or other sex. But they have different talents – and were not much interested in landscape design.
At Sissinghurst, though both owners were gay, the man did more on the layout and the woman did more on the details. If these are general characteristics, what does London’s greenway system need most (though it obviously needs both)? I think what it needs is common sense and practicality. The design exists and is taking shape but it has been dogged by dumb ideas – like Abercrombie’s idea of treating the links between parks as ‘green corridors’ and Boris Johnson’s idea of getting a cycle system on the cheap by painting lines on roads. With regard to bicycle transport planning what London needs is profound good sense eg (1) create cycle routes through most parks (2) make very many of the paved sidewalks beside roads into shared pedestrian-cycle paths (3) invest money in cycle planning on a scale which is proportionate to the capital invested in other transport modes – and keep on increasing the expenditure as cycle transport expands. This policy would result in an enormous increase in expenditure on cycle facilities – which would result in homengous increase in commuter and leisure cycling. I hope nobody will want to put my neck on a block for saying it, but I think London would be more likely to adopt these policies under female patronage. But there is hope: I think cycle planning would have appealed to Diana more than to Charles and I think the spirit of Diana, in the person of William, is second in line to the throne. So if King Billy the Fifth does this job then we may well be in need of more strategic planning by the time his son takes over. I therefore recommend Henry for the babe’s first name – remembering that Henry VIII was London’s greatest open space planner, even if it was done for personal reasons, it is time for a Henry IX. All this, of course, is from the standpoint of London open space planning. Perhaps the ‘best of all’ option would be a Gay King Henry – though I can imagine this not being too popular in some parts of the Commonwealth.

The landscape architecture of the BBC Plaza in Portland Place


http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/02/rein-top-pay-mps-poor-furious Simon Jenkins

Most of us puzzle about how the BBC spends its money but a former editor of The Times (Simon Jenkins) explains the process in easy terms: You are sitting with some friends round a table on which is stashed £60m. It comes from a poll tax on television sets, free of Treasury control, and you can do with it what you like. You can use it for better television programmes, give it to low-paid staff or even return it to the taxpayer. No one will know, except a bunch of toothless trustees. So you smile nervously at one another, reach forward and pocket as much loot as you can grab. With this guidance we can imagine how the BBC Plaza on Portland Place came to take its shape:
BBC Boss Will the planners buy MJP’s design for the building?
Majordomo Yeah. MJP say we shouldn’t have any problems. The design is a re-conceptualised post-transmogrification of the 1928 Val Myer and McGrath design. It plays on the neo-classicism of Nash’s All Soul’s Church and the Art Deco of Broadcasting House.
BBC Boss OK. How about the plaza then?
Majordomo We could have a great landscape design. But it would cost money.
BBC Boss Yeah. Let’s slab it. Then use lettering to advertise all the lucky countries we broadcast to.
Majordomo Yessir. It’ll cost some brass farthings but won’t dent our pension pot.

Luckily, it is not too late to add an installation: a cloud canopy of glass sheets to make an outdoor-indoor space for people and plants. Image inspiration 1 Image inspiration 2

We welcome the Royal Baby and hope London's Greenway Network will have a King Queen Champion


What are kings and queens for in the 21st century? I don’t know, but opening hospitals and attending state funerals does not seem ALL THAT useful. Gardenvisit.com is therefore putting in a pre-natal plea for the Royal Baby to become a patron of London’s Greenway Network. Princess Di used to run incognito in Kensington Gardens and I wished at the time that she had laid the foundation for a Scandinavian-style Cycling Monarchy. It would be wonderful if her first grandchild could lead London, as Henry VIII and Charles II did, in the creation of a London Greenway Network. It should provide for green transport and green recreation throughout London. Though welcome, Boris Johnson’s  cycleways are not places of pleasure. London needs greenways fit for kings and queens and royal babes.

Space and place

Famous Danish Urbanist Jan Gehl after a nine month study of central Sydney in 2007 called for the addition of three new public squares along George Street:

“His report paints a picture of a city at war with itself – car against pedestrian, high-rise against public space. “The inevitable result is public space with an absence of public life,” he concludes.

His nine-month investigation found a city in distress. A walk down Market Street involved as much waiting at traffic lights as it did walking. In winter, 39 per cent of people in the city spend their lunchtimes underground, put off by a hostile environment at street level: noise, traffic, wind, a lack of sunlight and too few options for eating.”

If the City of Sydney was to implement his vision how would the addition of public space improve the perception of place in Sydney?

The City of Miami is also feeling the lack of a public centre. In considering the attributes of good public squares they describe a few of the most successful spaces in the US, including Union Square and Madison Square.

Feel free to nominate your favourite public square and tell us why it is so good!