Once again, the city was brought to life with a month long series of activities and activations, all centred around the annual theme of ‘In Common’ – a theme which powerfully captured the imagination of both the industry and the public and led to some of the most thought-provoking, creative and engaging events and interventions we’ve seen yet. From interventions and activations that tackle issues around access, diversity and equity in our city, to workshopping of personal and shared histories to better understand an area and help preserve its culture, or talks and walks led by grassroots organisations engaging in practices around greening, permaculture and farming.
This year’s programme also helped to celebrate the everyday and the extraordinary, dissolving the idea that London’s architecture is synonymous with central London only, and was a testament to the talent, ideas, and imagination of communities across London, giving hope that we have a city full of thinkers, creators and activists ready to rethink how we design and develop our capital for existing and future generations.
After such as long time of enforced passivity, the imperative to act was felt by so many of us. Whether we are architects or not, the pandemic exposed so many things that need to change. How, for instance, should architecture act in the face of the climate emergency, social injustice and the needs of a changing society? How can architects make their actions felt beyond their profession – how can they be heard more clearly, become more valued or collaborate more meaningfully?
The theme for the LFA 2022 LFA was ‘act’. Through the festival we examined how we can act for ourselves, each other, our cities and the environment. Organisers were encouraged to mobilise beyond conversations as well as re-think what architecture is, who it is for and how we interact with it.
Following two years of digital led content, the festival came back with an array of fantastic events which spread across London, online and internationally.
For architects, ‘care’ means many things. At a basic level, architects design buildings and objects of care. But what does ‘care’ mean for architects, civic leaders and the public? From inaccessible playgrounds to sometimes outright hostile design, it sometimes seems there’s a distinct lack of care in our built environment. Did it take a global pandemic to help us realise what we care most about?
Through the festival we examined how we can better care for ourselves, each other, our cities and the environment. At a time when technology is both connecting us and dividing us, the pandemic showed us that we need to find ways to reconnect with each other, to build care and empathy.
For 2021 we harnessed the best of real-world events with the accessibility of digital to create a hybrid festival including both physical and digital events – allowing more people to participate in more ways and in more places.
Our theme for the 2020 festival was ‘power’. For the first time we hosted a new online festival – LFA Digital – throughout June 2020. Whilst we were online, not everything was on a screen. The basic principle of the festival remained the same: our events were organised by an amazingly eclectic community of people, groups and organisations who care about the architecture of our city.
From cake baking competitions to architectural therapy; drawing workshops to Lego challenges; panel discussions to podcasts; virtual building tours to outdoor audio guides – our event organisers created many ways to help you see architecture in new ways. Online!
And then – throughout the autumn, in a seemingly all-too-brief pause between lockdowns, we held our Festival Season – with many physical events that we weren’t able to deliver in June.
From suburban semis with picket fences to mansions with their moats, the British have always used architecture to express their love of a good boundary. Good fences make good neighbours. Don’t they?
Our 2019 theme of boundaries was taken on by some 300 independent organisations and individuals, helping the festival stage over 566 separate events. This allowed us to engage over 800,000 people across the month.
From Festival Flags over Piccadilly to angels over St Pauls, our 2019 festival featured many large-scale architectural installations. Our Pavilion in Dulwich drew huge crowds and our city benches allowed people to see how small changes to their public realm can make a big difference.
Churchill recognised the connection between architecture and identity when he said ‘we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us’. Whether you were born here or have just arrived, you can call yourself a Londoner – but what is it that makes a Londoner? What defines the city and therefore the identity of those who live in it?
Our 2018 theme of ‘identity’ was the wellspring for a lively and diverse programme of more than 530 events organised by more than 300 separate organisations and individuals – helping us reach an audience over well over 600,000 people.
We launched our hugely influential #SeeTheElephant campaign, expanded our year-round competitions programme and held our first symposium at the Royal Academy, helping us explore our theme in a more rigorous way.
LFA2017 broke all records to become the largest festival to date with over 600 events attracting over 400,000 people. Our “memory” theme acknowledged London as a city of myriad layers of memories: of people, buildings, places and experiences. Festival highlights included the award-winning Dulwich Pavilion by if_do (the result of a design competition organised in partnership with the Dulwich Picture Gallery), a world premiere of new choral work in a disused Royal Docks warehouse, exclusive tours of Battersea Power Station, family workshops at the National Gallery, and the UK’s first ever ‘live listing’ with Historic England. We also launched ground-breaking new research at MIPIM 2017, revealing the huge economic value of London’s architecture sector for the first time.
With a full-time festival team in place for the first time, LFA2016 was the biggest to date with 356 events celebrating the theme “community”. Coinciding with a divisive Brexit referendum campaign and outcome, the LFA programme explored architecture’s power to bring people and communities together. Highlights included a festival of refugee art and culture, a very popular Pride breakfast for LGBT+ architects, a lecture by Turner prize winners Assemble and an extraordinarily competitive Lego Challenge at the Royal Academy. The festival covered a huge range of issues – from housing to community cohesion – in the face of enormous change across the capital.
In 2015 the LFA looked at the city as a work in progress, with the architectural community questioning a city in a constant state of change and regeneration. Architectural photographer Paul Raftery discussed how technology has changed the way we view the built environment, and Will Alsop, Munira Mirza and Alison Wilding debated how policy and design can encourage creative pace to thrive in cities. The festival looked beyond London and into the future too: with a series of pavilions by Irish architects and thought-provoking discussion on the future of the profession.
The 2014 festival explored London’s historic and modern architectural landmarks. Londoners and visitors were taken on walks round the Gherkin and Centrepoint, jogging tours of the Olympic Fringes, sunset boat trips down the Thames, and nostalgic rides on a Routemaster through London’s streets. Headlining debates involved many big names in London and architecture, questioning whether London really needs so many tall towers. An impressive line-up of speakers throughout the festival included Will Self, Yinka Shonibare, Ian Martin, Patrick Keiller and Lisa Jardine.
Now an annual event, the London Festival also looked beyond hub areas, focusing on the whole city for the first time. An eclectic programme included a train tour of stations built in the 1930s, a cycling tour of Brutalist London, an exhibition of architectural models from around the world, and an exploration of London’s “Lesser Known Architecture”. A standout highlight was Leandro Erlich’s Dalston House – a Barbican commission where a reconstructed Victorian terrace façade and a large suspended mirror played optical tricks on participants and passers-by.
Over the course of three weekends, the London Festival of Architecture’s fifth outing harnessed the excitement leading up to the 2012 London Olympics, and explored how the Olympics were changing the city. The festival was concentrated on Hoxton, King’s Cross, Fitzrovia, Victoria and Southwark, with exhibitions and installations also exploring the concept of “The Developing City” while open studios sprang up all across the capital. The playful theme encouraged offices to clear their desks, heading out instead to play giant games of ping pong or enjoy huge picnics on specially-closed roads.
The 2010 festival explored three key areas of London in turn. The first weekend focus on the Nash Ramblas – connecting Regent’s Park and St James’s Park – recreated a historic route with highlights including Matthew Lloyd’s water/solar powered lift on Duke of York Steps and the debut of Regent Street Windows – now a London staple in their own right. The second weekend focused on Aldgate to Stratford, and featured speeches by Mayor Ken Livingstone and Rafael Vinoly as traffic closures creates new space for Londoners to relax. The final weekend on Bankside revealed an Urban Orchard, a solstice bike ride and – at last – Dogs For Architecture.
Offering “fresh thinking, fresh ideas, fresh talent, fresh collaborations and fresh cultures”, the 2008 festival saw sell-out talks from international names including Daniel Libeskind, David Chipperfield, Rafael Vinoly, Cesar Pelli, Rem Koolhas and Peter Ackroyd, alongside new structures and installations from practices including Foster + Partners and Carmody Groarke. Featuring five hubs across the city and five weekends, the festival stretched its ambitions further, with Exhibition Road closed to traffic for the first time to showcase new work and future possibilities: in time leading to permanent closure and a lasting legacy for the festival.
For its second appearance, the festival covered the notion of change, celebrating both the transience and consistency of London life, an exploring the junction of rural and urban. Featuring highlights such as the London Oasis – a sculptural piece responding to its environment, a photography exhibition of subterranean London by Alan Williams, pecha kucha at Sadlers Wells, and speeches by Renzo Piano and the then newly-elected Mayor Boris Johnson. Animals featured once again, as Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano driving 60 sheep across the Millennium Bridge – surrounded by over 15,000 Londoners – provided an enduring image for the festival.
The very first London Festival of Architecture – then known as the Architecture Biennale – lasted ten days. Its central focus, based around Clerkenwell, sought to illustrate how the past determines the future The programme included lectures and talks from Zaha Hadid, Peter Ackroyd and Dejan Sudjic, exploring topics that remain relevant today such as “Gentrification v Regeneration”. But the highlight was definitely a cattle drive down St John Street to Smithfield market, bringing thousands of Londoners – young and old – out of their homes and into the city.