Public London: Ten years of transforming London’s public spaces

 Public London: Ten years of transforming London’s public spaces exhibition – 23 April – 11 July 2015

 NLA Galleries, The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, London WC1E 7BT


Image credit: Temple Stairs ©Studio Octopi & Picture Plane

New London Architecture (NLA) will explore the transformation of London’s public spaces over the last decade with Public London , an Insight Study, exhibition and programme of events, forming a core strand of NLA’s activity in its 10th anniversary year.  The Public London programme will track the key initiatives, people and projects that have driven a shift in attitude to the way our streets, squares, green spaces, rivers and parks are designed, delivered and used. It will also look ahead to the key challenges of creating and maintaining civilised spaces in a city that is rapidly densifying.

In the ‘Public London’ exhibition, a series of images, timelines, models and videos will present a past, present and future look at public realm in the capital. From grand projects such as Trafalgar Square, Exhibition Road and the Olympic Park, to a wealth of smaller-scale interventions, including high streets, pop-ups and green spaces, ‘Public London’ will explore just how far London’s everyday spaces have been transformed since it was announced that London had won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics 10 years ago.

In 2005, one of NLA’s first exhibitions examined Mayor Livingstone’s 100 Public Spaces, a programme of works to create or upgrade 100 urban spaces in the capital. The aim was to demonstrate the contribution that improved public space makes to city life, and the ways in which the highest quality designs can be secured without excessive expenditure.  While in reality, only a fraction of those 100 spaces were completed or underway by the end of Livingstone’s second term, the pledge marked the start of a change in attitudes to public space, including a recognition that all of London’s urban spaces, and not just its parks and gardens, warrant high quality design input.


Fast forward 10 years, and ‘Public London’ will look back on how many of those 100 spaces received the attention they needed, and will attempt to unravel the complex web of funding models, ownership, design, procurement, management, and maintenance, which so often introduce obstacles to hinder delivery of the well-designed streets and spaces which London deserves.  ‘Public London’ comprises a three-month exhibition, Insight Study, and events schedule, from free talks, to walking tours, debates, conferences, and round-table discussions.

Simultaneously, NLA will be working with guest curator Sarah Gaventa, public space expert and founder of Made Public, to create a temporary installation – Never Mind the Bollards – in the South Crescent outside the NLA Galleries at The Building Centre. This playful show will explore how Londoners experience ordinary public spaces such as streets and pavements, and will uncover the secret histories of London’s multifarious street furniture — from bollards originally designed as boat moorings, to grave markers, manhole covers, historic cobbles, telephone boxes, odd signs, and London’s magnificent Plane trees.

Peter Murray, NLA chairman, says: “Delivery of public realm in London is one of the key challenges for the city in the decades ahead. As Londoners begin to see public realm emerge through many different modes of delivery, NLA’s Public London programme will draw out the different perspectives on how London’s public space can and should be delivered. A key piece of work for our 10th anniversary year, Public London builds on the appetite for quality analysis and debate on London’s built environment which was so clearly seen through NLA’s research on tall buildings in spring 2014.


One comment

  1. landscapeiskingston

    Speaking at a debate on public space held to launch the anniversary celebrations, Sarah Gaventa, founder of Made Public was dismissive about London’s commitment to improving green infrastructure. ‘Everybody says a lot about it, but what do we actually see?’ she challenged. But, she said, private management of public space had become far less heavy handed and more acceptable.

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