Despite an audible ripple of disappointment when it was announced that both Rem Koolhaas and Janet Street-Porter would be absent from last night's final debate, the evening was both argumentative and stimulating. The central theme, on whether London could be both big and beautiful, focused on new development and the city's growing population. Paul Finch, editor of the Architectural Review and host of Saturday's debate, once again moderated, introducing each of the panelists who then spoke in turn.

Richard Rogers was the first to take the mike, offering his first of many optimistic lines throughout the evening. "London has never been better during my lifetime," he said, going on to describe the many successes of the new government under Ken Livingstone—a government he did acknowledge his own involvement in. He concluded by indicating that the future of the city rests largely in the Thames Gateway, which promises a host of new opportunities if approached correctly.

Following the architect's positive outlook, Policy and Resources Committee of the City of London chair Michael Snyder spoke on how the profits reaped in certain parts of London should be dispersed throughout the boroughs. He touched upon numerous themes—from supporting youth in new architecture to the need for affordable housing—and summed up his argument by noting that "despite the rumors of city-bonuses, the spirit of philanthropy is alive and well."

Tristam Hunt spoke next, and described the parallels in London's growth now and its growth during Victorian times—a similarity that begs comparison and lesson-learning now. "The Victorians were good at building things, and building them quickly," he argued. "They built a lot of housing, and a lot of density." Furthermore Victorians had a strong sense of place and identity, qualities lacking in developments like the Thames Gateway. Meanwhile, Hunt continued, we should look to developments such as King's Cross—with its concern with community participation and heritage-protection—as a model for future projects.

Finally, Shumon Basar took the stage and turned the discussion away from pragmatic concerns and towards understanding the semantics of "big" and "beautiful". "Might London suffer from wanting it all?" he asked.

From there the conversation skipped around a fair bit. The respondents—Sean Griffiths, Ricky Burdett, Piers Gough and Sarah Gaventa—all introduced different angles and new subjects for exploration. The audience members, too, seemed to take the discussion in multiple directions. Emerging from the evening, themes such as new developments, responsible architecture, and political accountability emerged as the leading topics of interest. Several of the participants returned to key topics—Rogers on density and brownfield development, Hunt on lessons of the past etc.—but otherwise the evening seemed to follow London's present trajectory: organic, multivalent and a bit confused.

Posted by: Jaffer Kolb on 26/06/07



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Debate London is organised by The Architecture Foundation Charity Registration no.1006361
The Architecture Foundation is funded by Arts Council England