Category Archives: London urban design

Richard Rogers 'Sustainable' design for Chelsea Barracks

Left: my drawing of a sustainable city. Right: Rogers' drawing for Chelsea Barracks

Left: my drawing of a sustainable city. Right: Rogers' drawing for Chelsea Barracks

The above image shows my drawing of a sustainable city, left, and Richard Rogers design for the Chelsea Barracks, right. The upper part of Rogers’ drawing shows Ranelagh Gardens and the site of the Chelsea Flower Show.  I am of course mildly flattered that Richard Rogers has copied my idea but would like to point out that (1) the decent thing in cases like this is to acknowledge one’s sources, or offer a copyright fee (2) my drawing was a caricature, intended to show what should not be done in the name of sustainability (3) Rogers omitted the two redeeming features of my scheme: the green roofs were devoted to urban food production and the cyclist-friendly nature of the design proposal.

I was therefore very relieved to hear that,  after some caustic remarks by Prince Charles, the Qatari Royal family have decided not to go ahead with Rogers’ context-insensitive design. It makes ‘Plan Voisin’ mistakes without Corbusier’s flowing, if ill-conceived, parkland.  Rogers’ blocks are far too close together and  would have created some horribly narrow passageways.

Roger’s response to Prince Charles’ intervention has been to accuse him of constitutional impropriety. On this occasion, it is Rogers and his buddies from the architectural mafia, who have gone bonkers. It would be a sad day for democracy if the future King of England were banned from speaking his mind on the urban landscape of his capital city. What’s more, Prince Charles is very probably ‘speaking for England’ in the sense that more people hate than love Rogers’ paltry plagiarism of my idea. See Hugh Pearman’s blog for more details of this sorry affair. I am wondering if I should ask the University of Greenwich to withdraw the honorary doctorate it awarded to Richard Rogers, though he gave a good speech and was a very pleasant lunch guest.

Thames Estuary Airport proposed by Boris Johnson

A pilot's landing view of the Thames Estuary Airport. The sun is coming out and he can see the lido where he will relax before his next flight.

A pilot's landing view of the Thames Estuary Airport. The sun is coming out and he can see the lido where he will relax before his next flight.

Boris Johnson has proposed a new Airport in the Thames Estuary. It is a great idea but it needs to be much more than an airport plonked  in the Thames estuary if it is to get built. It should be a sublime feature in the landscape which also forms a new Thames crossing, a downstream flood barrier to protect Europe’s largest and richest city in the coming era of rising sea levels, a great lido facility and a wildlife habitat creation project. This is the proposal from Eleanor Atkinson, a MA Landscape Architecture graduate from the University of Greenwich – see her Thames Estuary Airport website for further details.

A friend’s father criticised the first proposal for an airport Maplin in the Thames Estuary: BROMHEAD, PETER The Great White Elephant of Maplin Sands – -the neglect of comprehensive transport planning in government decision-making Paul Elek, London, 1973. His case was well argued but, I believe, Eleanor’s proposal would overcome his objections. She has designed a Great White Swan instead of a tawdry white elephant. Her airport plan is comprehensive  and fits very well with the Channel Tunnel Railway and the Thames Gateway Development, both launched since Bromhead’s 1973 book.  Above all, her ‘ Swan Plan’ for an Estuary Airport is landscape architecture led. This gives it the best possible chance of overcoming the muddy waves of objections which greet any large development proposal in England.

The lower Thames Estuary can have a glittering splendour when the sun shines but it is NOT the most beautiful part of Britain. And when the new airport is built it will cure West London of the terrible curse of airport noise – and release a fabulously valuable development site. An intelligent approach to context-sensitive landscape design is the royal road to voter-support in England. I am pleased to report that the design has been sent to the Mayor of London’s office and they have passed the design concept to their consultants. A decision is expected.

NOTE: if you would like to see more of this proposal, and other excellent landscape architecture projects for London, they will be on Exhibition at the Menier Street Gallery near London Bridge 53 Southwark Street London SE1 1RU 10am-5pm from 22-26 June 2009.

Plan of the Thames Estuary 'Boris Johnson' Airport, showing the river crossing, flood barrier and habitat creation areas

Plan of the Thames Estuary 'Boris Johnson' Airport, showing the river crossing, flood barrier and habitat creation areas

Deptford Creek London Landscape Archaeology


I wish I could tell you whether this rotting barge is a ‘wreck awaiting removal’ or a ‘scheduled monument awaiting a viewing fee’. I fear the former. Deptford Creek is a very interesting place. Henry VIII established England’s first Royal Dockyard here. Peter Romanov, son of Alexis I, was born in the Kremlin and came to Deptford in 1698 to learn shipbuilding. This was 4 years before he became the Czar who became Peter the Great. An exceedingly strong man, he worked, drank and womanized with the shipwrights. From 1871 until 1914 Deptford was the City Corporation’s Foreign Cattle Market. But almost all the evidence of this fascinating history has gone. The Docklands Light Railway was as heartlessly perched over the river as if it  been in Tokyo.  Then, with the 1990s YBA’s and Britart, Deptford became an artist’s enclave.  Most certainly, the old ships should not be removed. But nor should they be restored. They should be allowed to sink, ever so gradually, into the mud.

Trafalgar Square as a garden


Charles Barry’s design for Trafalgar Square was inspired by the gardens he had seen in Italy and designed in England (including Shrubland Park and Trentham Gardens). In essence, Barry followed Repton’s theory that an important building, like the National Gallery, should be fronted by a terrace. The original idea for a Square in this position had come from from Humphry Repton’s partner (John Nash). A traffic island for 150 years, the Square was rescued by Normal Foster’s part-pedistrianization scheme of 2003. The point Fostor neglected is that garden squares should have flowers.

My suggestion is to grow the flowers in pots and arrange them on the great sandstone slabs in front of the National Gallery. When the space is required for another purpose, the pots can be moved.

If the authorities won’t permit  a radical transformation, perhaps they would allow a Classical Vase to stand in front of the National Gallery.

Barking Town Square's elder brother

Photo courtesy Miles Dennison

This photo (taken near Waterloo East Station in South London) helps make the point that the ‘urban design theory’ underpinning the misguided design of Barking Town Square dates from the 1960s. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. Muf Architecture’s office is in East London but they could well have been inspired by Waterloo. Note the chain link fencing. Why not plant it with convolvulus? – the Rasta temple in Camberwell could let us regard this as a context-sentsitive approach! Or, better, plant it with runner beans – nice red flowers and then some good organic food to eat.

Rasta Temple

Originally uploaded by a shadow of my future self

Public Art in Barking Town Square

Public art bounds Barking Town Square

Nothwithstanding our criticism of the urban design of Barking Town Square, Muf deserve an award for an excellent piece of public art on the northeast side of the Square. Muf state that ‘The folly screens the flank wall of Iceland supermarket and makes the fourth elevation to the town square. The folly is comprised of architectural salvage and recovers the texture of lost historic fabric of the town centre; it stands as a mementomori to this current cycle of regeneration.’

Unlike the usual ‘Turd in the Plaza’ approach to public art, this wall:

(1) serves an urban design objective by enclosing the space

(2) picks up on the historic context of Barking

(3) pleases the eye without being attention-seeking

I wish we could have more context-sensitive public art.

Barking Town Square does not deserve a public open space award

Barking Town Square by Muf Architecture Art should not have won the 5th European Prize for Urban Public Space, however good the architecture

I’d never been to Barking. But in 2008 Barking Town Square won the the 5th European Prize for Urban Public Space so I went to have a look. Sorry about the weak pun, but the judges are Barking Mad. The main building has a sentimental Bauhaus-ey charm but the urban space is a plain rectangle of pink Spanish granite, laid in stretcher bond for no good reason. The hoardings illustrate some planting to come but the “Public Open Space” is a void, an empty space, a nothing. The judges all represent organizations which promote the art of architecture, which is fair enough, because the building is OK, but this is NOT a good urban square. It is as though Jane Jacobs and William H Whyte had never lived. There is no mixed use: the adjoining buildings are all municipal, without the shops and cafes which might have provided users. There is nowhere to sit, ignoring wisdom of Jan Ghel. The ‘square’ is almost a cul-de-sac, ignoring Ed Bacon and Bill Hillier. The paving is non-SUDS. The only redeeming feature is a piece of public art described as a “7 metre high folly [which] recreates a fragment of the imaginary lost past of Barking”. But why re-create an imaginary lost past? Barking had a medieval abbey. Captain Cook was married in a Barking church. Then there is the cultural context. Barking has one of the largest immigrant communities in London, with many from the Punjab and Sub-Saharan Africa – neither of which region is known to admire the Bauhaus. Some architects show genius in urban design. Muf muffed it.

Note: The photograph was taken at about 11.30 am on an unseasonably warm autumn day (28th September 2008). The good urban spaces in London were overflowing with people. The places which remind one of pre-1989 East Berlin were empty.

London's Olympic cycling routes

When London cycle routes are safe, beautiful and direct, they will be very popular. Motor vehicles can then be confined to indirect backstreets.

Doubtless, the 2012 athletes will be provided with excellent tracks. But will the cycle paths used to reach the Olympic path be of a decent standard? Maybe.

London had a ‘Cycle to Work Week’ c1974 and I decided to take part. Since then, I have been a regular London cyclist. It felt like pioneering to begin with but cycle usage in the capital has been increasing steadily. Official policy on cycling has also changed and now appears to be as follows:

  1. Appoint platoons of cycle planning officers to commission regiments of consultants on cycle planning.
  2. Include cyclist-friendly policies in local plans (UDPs)
  3. Proliferate signs to mark the London Cycle Network (LCN)
  4. Paint any unwanted patches of roadspace green and call them cycle routes
  5. Ignore routes which are popular with cyclists
  6. Spend as little money as possible on cycle routes
  7. Use traffic calming devices, known as chicanes, to kill and maim as many cyclists as possible.
  8. Introduce bendy busses, described as ‘public transport’, to mop up survirors and make London safe, once again, for vehicles powered by the infernal combustion engine.

So, on the whole, I am lack optimism about the legacy of the London Olympics including a single high-quality cycle route. There are only two reasons for optimism: London’s Mayor (Boris Johnson) and the present leader of the Tory Party (David Cameron) are both keen cyclists. But so was a former Minister of Transport (Sir George Younger) and he managed to achieve nothing of value.

In order to make cycle routes useful and beautiful, cycle route planning and design should be taken out of the hands of transport engineers. The job should be done by landscape architects – but only those who are themselves cyclists.

Towards a Greener London

Green carpet, green chairs and green light - seen on London's South Bank on 12th July 2008As the author of a an old report on Towards a green strategy for London, I should be pleased to see a sudden and dramatic green turn on London’s South Bank. And I am. Green is a good outdoor colour, kind to the eye and calming for the nerves. But I would also like the Greater London Authority to adopt a serious Green Strategy for London. ‘