Designing for a Liveable City

Future Proofing London
By Ken Shuttleworth

Experience has shown us that prediction can be a bit hit and miss. So when planning for resilience and risk we have to consider what we do know versus what we don’t. For example, we don’t know exactly how climate change will affect us; but we know that it will.

And when we are unsure of what is to come, there is an instinct to play it safe and stick to what we do know. But if we never open our eyes or ears to other things, we stop exploring and discovering. We fail to take a risk. Excitement is lost and the benign wins.

Everything that gets built in a city reflects an ethos. Architecture always expresses a hope or a fear – an argument for an idea or a resistance to another. So as architects and designers aspiring to create long-term value, our future-proofing can only be based on what those ideas are.

Cities are centres of innovation and freedom, havens of tolerance and sophistication. They provide information, association, choice and security. But when you look at London how many of these functions were actually planned in terms of their future application? Or have they evolved through the vigour that the built environment has facilitated?

The essence of any city comes from a combination of its fabric – the spaces and buildings – its geography, and its people. But we also have to remember that a city’s identity is interwoven with its fabric of buildings and spaces.

And what should London’s identity be?

London skyline (c)Will Pryce

We know that London is recognised for its economic and political importance and its cultural diversity. We know that with the evolution of traditional office working practices, third spaces and public spaces are becoming the meeting places of choice. And we know that such factors have to be accommodated by the spaces and buildings we create – their typology, flexibility and adaptability.

Without accurate prediction of the future, we as architects can’t make any meaningful dictats in isolation – and I’d question whether it’s our job to do so anyway. We have to be part of the communal endeavour that ‘is’ the city. We have to join the conversation. Listen. Share. Explore. Discover.

To help create resilience and long-term value for the future, we have to support London’s evolution. We have to nurture public space as the glue between the city and its citizens. We have to ensure that London above all is a liveable city.

This post was adapted from Ken’s talk at the Base London conference.

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