The London Festival of Architecture

The London Festival of Architecture


The London Festival of Architecture has just begun and runs throughout the month of June. It is big! It is the largest festival of architecture in the world, yet surprisingly is unknown to the general public. Its theme this year is “Boundaries”. This may sound like architectural private language; in fact the programme is not only gigantic, it is diverse, accessible and some of the activities sound like family fun.

The festival orbits around four hubs.

  1. The Royal Docks
  2. London Bridge (includes Tower Bridge)
  3. The City
  4. The Heart of London (Bayswater to Piccadilly)

Spreading out from each of these hubs, there are exhibitions, installations, workshops, guided walks, pop-up events and ‘parklets’, open offices, river trips, kids drawing and Lego competitions as well as conferences and learned talks. Architects open offices promote the scope of work being designed out of London around the world alongside healthy self-promotion. The festival has always given space and voice for emerging young architectural talent as well as being reliant on that energy for its breadth and colour.

London has its issues, but is still the architectural capital of the world. London attracts tourists all year round for its history, museums, pageantry and architecture; so why is our population less aware and engaged in what this festival is all about? Is it the lack of education in the school curriculum that fails to engage youngsters in awareness of our visual and spatial environment? To explore our city, towns and villages, to learn about urbanisation and the impact on nature of the planet’s population migrating to cities? Why has it taken 93 year old David Attenborough and 16 year old Greta Thunberg to shake up awareness of the plight of planet earth? Man’s devastation of the natural world, be it plastic pollution of our oceans, deforestation, chemical and mineral exploitation, or impending extinction of flora and fauna with precipitant ecological disaster will only be averted by awareness, education and change. To achieve this, one starting point is awareness, interest and understanding of the place, the environment in which we live. Or is it that London’s populace are less design and environmentally aware than we pretend to be? Or is it that lives are just too busy and London already has too much going on?

It would be good if “KCW Today” could be publish a programme or summary of the events. Regrettably we have not been able to obtain this, so a search of the website will be necessary for readers who wish to find out more. A few highlights that caught “Squinch’s” attention are:

Tower Bridge Diorama, which runs from 30th June to 30th September showing alternative designs submitted in 1876 of how the great bridge might have been; some frivolous, some fantastical!

National Gallery 9th & 16th June “Drawing for families”. See how much better your kids can draw than Mum or Dad?

White Chapel Bell Foundry. The bell foundry has now moved its works, but the original Whitechapel foundry building is being opened up to allow a rare opportunity to explore its history.

Dulwich Picture Gallery from 12th June is hosting “The Colour Palace”. The John Soane gallery is a treasure. Take a picnic and feed the ducks in Dulwich Park right opposite.

Granary Square South (N1) “The Wooden Parliament” (more interesting than broken government?) open air pavilion will be hosting a series of musical performances, drop-in drawing workshops and children’s events organised by the Museum of Architecture throughout June.

The Southwark Hub will hold a guided walk around the source of London’s history of alcohol, gin, cigars and coffee houses with the salacious title “a slow comfortable screw against the wall”. Make of that what you choose!

For the more seriously minded, the Royal Danish Embassy in Sloane Street is hosting a three day conference entitled “How to create cities that can blur the boundaries to the benefit of all”.  The conference is being held from the 18th-20th June and aims to illustrate exemplars of sustainability, affordable housing, accessible transportation, cities at night and how architecture can help communities gel together.

In light of the divisive outcomes of the Brexit debacle, anything that can help gel our divided nation back together will be valuable exploration.

The History of London’s Wards 

To keep with the spirit of the London Festival of Architecture and its theme of boundaries we’ve decided to spotlight some of the capitals oldest, yet invisible, boundaries with a feature on the history of the Wards of the City of London, a still existent branch of the medieval governing system that divides London into 25 segments. Over their hundreds of years in existence, the wards were broadly excepted from the majority of Government reforms, surviving as a one of the city’s few direct links to our ancient past.

The 25 wards of the City have seen their borders functionally unchanged over their years of existence and initially each individual ward functioned in concert with the others in regards to their own administrative, financial and governance functions. Whilst the recorded history of the Wards goes back to Medieval times with their origins are almost certainly earlier. In their original form, historians speculate that they probably took the form of ancient estates within the nascent City, serving a role somewhat similar to a lord of the manor and had some level of independent civil and criminal jurisdiction.

Documents written in the 12th Century refer to the Ward system and to the names of Alderman of the Wards who held a largely hereditary position with the role of Alderman becoming an elected role during the reign of Edward III (1327 – 1377), by which time the Wards appear to have assumed names similar to those of today. Some wards, such as the Cordwainer ward, are named after the professions historically practiced within, whilst others such as Cripplegate are named for landmarks, many of which have disappeared over the long centuries of their existence.

For those interested in more information of London’s Wards, the London Festival of Architecture are hosting a walking tour on the subject, Within or Without – Wards of the City of London on June 13th for 12.00 go to for more information.

Festivals on the Southbank  

The Southbank is at the very centre of London life and throughout summer there is an immense selection of activities and festivals running along the riverbank. The Underbelly festival is showing a typically diverse selection of affordable circus, theatre, cabaret, comedy, music and children’s shows. This year’s line-up of top comedians includes Mark Watson, John Robins, Vikki Stone, Abandoman and Fin Taylor. There’s also a regular Saturday night show, London Comedy Allstars, featuring a mixed bill with performances from Josie Long, Ed Gamble, Phil Wang, Dane Baptiste, Felicity Ward, Ahir Shah alongside enjoy weird and wonderful cabaret acts, including Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club, one of the tops shows from the Edinburgh Festival and Yummy, a drag extravaganza.

In addition there is the Southbank Summer which has this year focuses on LGBTQI+ artists and performers, with DJs, performances, film screenings and live music. Also upcoming is the UK exclusive of Jean Paul Gaultier’s part revue, part catwalk, Fashion Freak Show, alongside pop star Peaches, drag star Ginger Johnson and electronic musician Planningtorock.

In addition the Kiss My Genders exhibition opens at Hayward Gallery, showcasing more than 30 international artists whose works redefine identity, beauty and the body.


About author