New Practices Celebrate a City in Flux

Event: New Practices London Symposium
Location: Center for Archictecture, 10.16.07
Speakers: Tom Coward — Founder, Agents of Change (AOC); David Howarth, RIBA — Co-Director, drdharchitects; Stephen Witherford, RIBA — Director, Witherford Watson Mann Architects
Keynote: Brett Steele — Director, Architectural Association School of Architecture (London)
Moderator: Joseph Grima — Director, Storefront for Art and Architecture
Organizers: AIANY New Practices Committee; The Architecture Foundation (London)
Sponsors: Exhibition Underwriters: Associated Fabrication; Häfele Americas; SKYY 90; Patrons: 3Form; ABC Imaging; Sponsors: Severud Associates; Thornton Tomasetti; OS Fabrication & Design; The Conran Shop; Supporters: Arup; Bartco Lighting; Fountainhead Construction; FXFOWLE Architects; MG & Company; Microsol Resources; Structural Enterprises; Friends: Barefoot Wines; Cosentini Associates; DEGW; Delta Faucet Company; Perkins Eastman; Media Partner: The Architect’s Newspaper

New Practices London

Courtesy Center for Architecture

In the last 15 years, London has experienced an unprecedented construction boom that has not only drastically changed the physical city, but also the impact of London as an international epicenter for architectural thought and design. London is now a hotbed for competitions and commissions, resulting in a new generation of practices heavily focused on research, adaptability, and pragmatism. Agents of Change (AOC), drdharchitects, and Witherford Watson Mann Architects, three firms featured in the New Practices London exhibition at the Center for Architecture, are young British firms that exemplify this emerging trend.

All three firms focus on making the most of a project despite blighted sites, limited budgets, and scarce materials. AOC’s Polyopoly, an Urban Board Game, for example, is an exercise that turns the concept of Monopoly upside down; players purchase tools to engage critical development in afflicted urban neighborhoods. Drdharchitects were finalists for the Arhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark, aimed to spark the development of a cultural quarter in the city. Their proposal responded to the site’s context within the city and provided a protective container for the art collection. While the overall building is rectangular, the angular entryway aims to create a dynamic transition between the activity on the street and the more static galleries. Witherford Watson Mann Architects’ Bankside Urban Forest is an urban redevelopment project for South London that inserts parks and trees in undeveloped areas, thus filling in and inhabiting vacant lots as the city develops in patches.

Reading London and practicing in London involves a deep understanding of how the city is developing, according to keynote speaker Brett Steele, director of London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture. London is no longer a destination in itself. Branding, tourism, and diversity are important factors contributing to a fleeting exchange of ideas comparable to other international transitional cities, such as Los Angeles and Beijing. New British practices are adept in realizing the potential for an evolving, pluralistic city.