If you ever need a crash course in London’s architecture since the Millennium then Kenneth Powell’s 21st Century London: The New Architecture is it. The book is a handy follow-up to Powell’s hugely successful New London Architecture first published in 2001 and extends Merrell publishers lavishly illustrated series of modern architecture guides.
Like its predecessors, the book is crammed with beautiful, full-spread photographs, bold colours and smart graphics, crucially providing an easy-to-read visual format that makes the book accessible to architects and non-architects alike. For purists there is also a healthy splattering of architectural drawings, some of which, such as the exploded axonometrics of HOK Sports’ Arsenal Emirates Stadium and Haworth Tompkins’ London Library are in colour to enhance their role as visual as well as technical aids.
Projects featured in the book cover the full range of building sectors and helpfully, are split into six colour-coded categories: Infrastructure, Culture, Health, Education, Housing and Offices. Numbered maps at the beginning of each section and are a useful tool in revealing that despite the inevitable emphasis on central London, enough work in the outer boroughs is covered to provide a comprehensive geographical view of urban development across the capital.
Coverage is broad and projects range from the large to the small: mega-schemes like the Stratford City development in East London mingle with one off residential projects such as Sergison Bates tiny Studio House in Bethnal Green. Several as yet unrealised schemes – such as Herzog and de Meuron’s Tate Modern Extension - are also included; providing an intriguing glimpse into how London’s architectural fabric may yet evolve in the near future.
Throughout, Powell’s commentary is diplomatic and dispassionate and he displays the same concise analytical clarity that he has brought to bear in his previous works in the series. His encyclopaedic knowledge of recent London planning history is most evident in the short introduction at the start of the book, but he is able to enrich all his project critiques with a masterful awareness of the change and dynamism that is an innate part of London’s cultural DNA.
21st Century London: The New Architecture is not an opinion piece; it is not a weighty tome of in-depth critical evaluation that seeks to expose what is good and bad in London’s post-Millennium architecture. While there are times when one may wish Powell was more forthright in expressing the rights and wrong of urban development in the capital and evaluating the underlying commercial and socio-cultural trends that drive them, this would inevitably veer the book into the choppy waters of polemic and this is not what it seeks to be.
What it does attempt to do is to inform rather than instruct, to catalogue change and to provide an accessible, invaluable and sumptuously designed resource that summarises all that has happened to London’s architecture since 2000. In a city as complex and cantankerous as London this is no easy feat, but it is one the book accomplishes perfectly.
21st Century London: The New Architecture is published by Merrell