There are just too many delicious goodies at this year’s London Festival of Architecture to take in without drawing up some kind of menu.
By the time you read this the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) will be in full swing. And at a time when architectural buttocks are clenched in anticipation of projects being crunched by credit concerns, there’s something to be said for the frivolity that accompanies the occasion. It’s imperative that we celebrate the profession, promote its talent and, most importantly, have some fun.
Nervousness about Boris Johnson’s ascension to power as London mayor is palpable in architectural circles. The sweet dreams of Ken’s liberal approach to tall buildings have turned into the nightmare of Boris’ belief we can fit everyone in London into their own detached house. A Tim Burton-esque hallucination comes to mind – thousands of angry-faced bungalows, armed with sharp picket fences, loom over a band of tall buildings, which realise they’re outnumbered and meekly make a retreat.
One can only hope that the exuberance at the LFA opening party, which Boris is attending, goes some way towards extinguishing the flames he has threatened to ignite under some of our most exciting projects.
A word of warning as the festival begins – there is a lot to take in this year. There will be more than 600 events across five “hubs” around the capital. Each will have its own road closures, installations, street markets and walking, cycle and boat tours. There will be treasure hunts, parties, posh breakfast talks and rowdy late night openings.
As much as I love a good thing, I can’t help wonder if we might end up with a bit of archi-fatigue at the end of the month. But, as with any festival, from muddy Glastonbury to the summer fete at your kids’ school, the trick is to have an idea of what you want to see and try not to get too distracted. Do veer off every now and again, but always keep one eye on the prize. With this in mind, here’s my guide to the highs and lows of the festival.
Amanda Levete’s Psycho Buildings Tour sounds wonderfully insane. Never before have an exhibition and guide seemed so well suited.
Of the breakfast talks I imagine the Blueprint Big Breakfast with Janet Street-Porter, at the British Museum, will be most amusing, if only to see how much of her full English she can fit in her mouth between gobby tirades. It’s on 3 July at 8am.
Amanda Levete’s Psycho Buildings Tour at the Hayward Gallery, on 5 July at 3pm, sounds like a wonderfully insane way to spend any afternoon. Never before have an exhibition and guide seemed so well suited.
For a thoroughly modern filmic experience check out the set of short movies on 12 July at 8:45pm at the BFI Southbank. They are all about the contemporary city experience and will take you on trip through surreal urban environments and imaginary technoscapes.
Don’t miss It’s An Architectural Knockout on 20 July at 12pm-4pm in Clerkenwell Green. This harks back to the TV gameshow and will involve teams of architects battling it out on an obstacle course, dressed in full-length costumes of landmarks buildings. It might just be silly enough to actually work.
A Tim Burton-esque hallucination comes to mind – thousands of bungalows, armed with picket fences, loom over a band of tall buildings
If you’re after something slightly more highbrow, on 28 June you can catch a screening of The Fountainhead, based on Ayn Rand’s über-romantic novel about architecture, at 12:45pm in East Wintergarden, E14.
Also keep an eye out for Tonkin Liu’s Fresh Flower pavilion, an unfurling, petal-shaped illuminated structure that will migrate across various sites during the festival. This promises to be delightful.
The Clerkenwell Green village fete on 20 July, 12pm to 4pm is a must. It will be the highlight of and mark the end of the month-long festival.
One event to avoid might be “En vie … en ville”, disturbingly described as “a silent geometrical ballet and fusion of art and architecture” on 28 June at 3pm at Canada Square Park. I have witnessed contemporary dance and architecture fused before and it was not a pretty sight – think overweight bodies in too-tight neon-pink leotards flinging themselves around a temporary structure, deploying their limbs into disjointed shapes. Never again. But you never know, the Swiss dance company Da Motus! may prove me wrong – they are to be dressed in yellow suits with gimp-style gas masks.
Last, while the daily happy hour at the Zetter hotel in Clerkenwell might help keep us sane, it probably didn’t need a billing on the official events calendar. Even so, Pimms O’Clock runs all month from 6pm to 7pm at the Zetter Restaurant.
Tarek Merlin is an architect at SMC Alsop