Can cities be playful? Well, the organisers of the London Festival of Architecture
certainly think so as the title for this year’s fortnight of events, exhibitions and happenings is ‘The Playful City’. And with the Olympics looming large on the horizon – both metaphorically and in reality with Anish Kapoor’s Orbit now a landmark of east London – there is no better year to put forward such an idea.
Of particular interest in this year’s festival is the London Pleasure Gardens Hub,
one of seven geographical ‘hubs’ which serve as centres for the various architecture happenings nearby. Despite the hub’s slightly inauspicious location next to the ExCel conference centre in east London, the Pleasure Garden’s organisers aim to evoke the essence of its eighteenth-century forebear with all manner of extraordinary follies, hanging gardens, and even an oyster bar, all inspired by the regeneration of the surrounding Royal Docks.
RIBA installation at London Pleasure Gardens. The Pleasure Pools. Designed by Nick Lyons, Pernille Bisgaard and Ole Smith of FOURKS.
If all this architectural exuberance is bit much, a series of bespoke benches designed by new practices and recent architecture graduates will be on hand to provide much-needed respite. It’s a great idea, giving young designers a chance to showcase their talents while making it clear that cutting-edge architecture and design are not just about weirdly-shaped buildings and expensive interiors but have real and practical applications.
Kings Cross Focus Weekend - a garden will occupy a skip on Handyside Street
Closer to city’s centre, the Festival’s final weekend brings King’s Cross
into focus. For anyone who has passed through the area in the last few years it would be hard not to notice the huge changes going on there. From the enlarging of St Pancras Station with the restoration of Barlow’s great train shed and Gilbert Scott’s majestic Midland Grand Hotel (now St Pancras Renaissance),
to the transformation of the former industrial area to the north of King’s Cross station and the conversion of old nineteenth-century industrial buildings by Stanton Williams into premises for Central St Martins, the area is barely recognisable from even a few years ago.
Events and displays taking place range from a Skip Garden (which is exactly that!), dancing in Granary Square, an Imagination Playground
designed by David Rockwell where children can use various ‘loose parts’ to make their own building, cycle tours and various exhibitions at Central St Martins itself, to name but a few. What these various events will demonstrate is that regeneration can never be just about the transformation of a physical environment but has to tap into how we relate to a place emotionally. The sense of delight engendered by encountering the unusual or unexpected is central to how we experience – and enjoy – the city, and these events aim to stimulate that.
Kings Cross Focus Weekend -The Big Dance Granary Square
While a celebration as much as anything, the Festival is not intended to be solely responding to the city’s continual evolution but aims to play a part in shaping it as well. One of a number of interesting events hoping to do this is taking place in Lyric Square in Hammersmith
where architects and the community are coming together to debate a ‘Flyover Makeover’. Currently, the rather grim Hammersmith Flyover dominates a large part of the borough, but with it rapidly coming to the end of its life there are exciting opportunities for its replacement. One of these is a plan for a tunnel – or ‘flyunder’ – which would both reunite the borough and provide new space for any number of uses: a new school, park, housing. Anything is possible the event’s organisers insist, and they want people’s ideas, the more original the better. With sketching, writing activities, games, a band and a display of images of Hammersmith ‘then and now’ taking place throughout the day, there really is no better advert for the Festival’s aim of showing how important it is to get together and talk about London and its future – and importantly have a lot of fun at the same time.
- On Sunday 1 July join us at the RA for performances, talks, tours and workshops on a day of special activities
for all ages as part of the London Festival of Architecture and its theme, The Playful City. Learn about our building, collection and exhibitions through creative hands-on architectural activities for families and specialised talks for adults. Highlights include a dance performance inspired by Chris Wilkinson RA’s wonderful courtyard installation, From Landscape to Portrait.*