• London's layered lives

    For this week only, as the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) gets fully under way, I’m using this platform to spread the word about several events in the coming seven days that unravel London’s extraordinary built history, three of which I’m involved with. By chance they also address the city’s architectural past, present and future, and – especially important in light of the terrorist attack that occurred at London Bridge on Saturday evening, in the shadow of the Shard – reflect on the varied origins and personalities of those who make those buildings and spaces.

    Tonight, the Royal Academy hosts a sold-out talk on the architectural identity of London as a world city, examining how it is shaped by and yet in turn influences its citizens. Entitled London, global capital: Designing urban identities, the event will also examine how far Britain’s principal city has, can and should define a unique architectural image of its own rather than seek to emulate the cities of the Far East or elsewhere. In a so-called ‘globalised’ world, is London’s built heritage an advantage or a disadvantage? Are its new and emerging structures distinct or not?

    On Wednesday, I’ll be delivering the first of my four Rebuild << Rewind talks for the LFA, looking at successive buildings constructed on the same site for the same client and the architectural connections across those generations. The opening event tells the story of Nathan Rothschild, who arrived in London in the early 1800s and settled with his family in a rented house set back behind a courtyard just a few yards from the Bank of England. Founding the merchant bank that bears his name soon after, Rothschild saw his business expand steadily. Moving his family out to make room and adding extensions when even more space was needed, complete rebuilding eventually took place, at the height of the Victorian era. The grand commercial premises that resulted retained a link to that domestic precursor, though, being on the same plot in the same street and with a courtyard hidden behind handsome gates. A century later, in the Swinging Sixties, that building was in turn replaced, this time with a chastely elegant Modernist office block. Once again a courtyard lay at the heart of the scheme, albeit for cars this time; physical elements of the old building, including its hanging sign, were also retained. Finally, just after the Millennium, a third purpose-built home for Rothschild bank emerged – a gleaming glass and steel tower (night image, above). Even here, however, a courtyard of a kind retains a link to that two-hundred-year-old house. Discover the full story by booking a free place now.

    This Saturday I’ll be talking about London’s contemporary architecture more widely for the final part of The London Society’s Saturday Morning Architecture School programme. I’ve called the session Where, Why and How, as these seem to be the pressing questions that underpin many of the current projects in the capital. New ‘quarters’, often on brownfield sites, and the kinds of building being put up on them are at least as important as the styles those buildings adopt, though the remarkable pluralism that the latter demonstrates is clearly a source of interest and debate. The technology that enables many of these new shapes and schemes is also notable, even if it isn’t always – or indeed often – visible.

    And finally, I’ve also partnered with architects AukettSwanke for a display within the Royal Exchange (which co-incidentally features in my book How to Read London) that examines how the atrium has developed over the last sixty or so years. It shows how various City of London buildings designed or worked on by Aukett’s constituent practices in that period have interpreted the idea of this glassed-over space within a building, whether as a practical feature for increasing daylight, a visual amenity planted with lush foliage or a way of connecting spaces. Illustrated with images from the firm’s archives and drawing on and quoting from my paper ‘Opening up the City: Fitzroy Robinson and the atrium’, due for publication in the Twentieth Century Society’s upcoming academic Journal, the exhibition also shows how the atrium is evolving via current and future buildings that Auketts are designing, becoming more of a social space for those outside the building for example. The covered courtyard of the Exchange is open in business hours Monday to Friday and anyone can pop in; the exhibition, called Atrium & City, is mounted on eight ‘totems’, two flanking each of the Exchange’s entrances.

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Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

Click blog images to expand; pre-Sept 2011 posts here

final cover

Chris's third book reveals the hidden gems and well-known landmarks of London's rich built history, from shops that survived the Great Fire to the 2012 Olympic village's Deconstructivism, from Royal palaces to pleasure palaces, and from extravagent banks to Modernist apartments. Chris appeared on London Live to chat with presenter Reya El Salahi about the book; click on the still below. Follow the book's Facebook page for more events and news.

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