City of London embraces culture as part of its rebirth

Friday 27 September 2019

© Agnese Sanvito

The City of London is stepping up its drive towards becoming a rounded, 24-hour place, founded upon commerce, culture and creativity.

The Square Mile plans to harness the creative energy of talented people, said Alastair Moss, chair of its planning and transportation committee in his keynote address to an NLA On Location event last week. Its central commitment was to supporting businesses in the global competitive environment, he said, but its underlying strengths and measures to improve public realm with schemes like Bank Junction and Aldgate Square will help attract new workers from different sectors. ‘We need two million square metres of office space to accommodate the extra 100,000 workers projected to arrive here by 2036’, he said. ‘We need to plan for a complementary mix of uses, and we need a vibrant cultural offer’.

The event took place in the 28-storey Willis Building on Lime Street, whose designer Grant Brooker of Foster+Partners took the audience through its main features, including respecting the Lloyd’s building opposite and measures taken to ‘dissolve’ the building into the ground floor streetscape. Brooker revealed how the client was convinced by the architect’s design when they noticed an (accidental) ‘W’ appearing in the scheme’s stepped profile.

City of London Corporation research and intelligence director Laura Davison charted the City’s move to a services and knowledge economy, noting its ‘really strong jobs growth’, particularly in information and communication. Clustering of businesses such as with insurance’s tightly-knit community represents a ‘mutually beneficial evolution’, and the City has the biggest cluster of computer programmers in the country, with 28,000.

But the City has to look to position itself as not only the best place to work but a place with the best urban and social fabric, said Aneta Popiel, vice chair, CPA NextGen and co-founder, Herzi Art. Perhaps all the meanwhile spaces and public spaces should be brought back to the public for them to enjoy. ‘I like to think of the City not just as a place where we can have impact and be more creative together’.

The City’s drive towards stepping up its cultural credentials will come in part through the Cultural Mile, said the project’s manager Tim Jones. This is the new cultural district set up with the Barbican, London Guildhall and London Symphony Orchestra, improving a ‘neglected’ area and improving its wayfinding, something that will signpost the City’s status as the fourth largest funder of the arts in the country. ‘We are a cultural patron that now wants to take it to the next level’, he said. Part of the plans include a temporary ultra-low emission zone in the Beech Street Tunnel. 

Other highlights of the event included the City’s Carolyn Dwyer stressing that the built environment ‘is an absolutely critical part of the cultural ecosystem’, especially given the £100m it invests in culture every year, along with project updates including AXA head of leasing James Goldsmith on 22 Bishopsgate – a ‘big call’ for the investors after the Scalpel that preceded it and delicate economic conditions. The scheme – ‘a container for a community’ – aims at attracting a diversity of occupiers in a space that will adapt. 22 Bishopsgate is 30% let, 30% under offer, but success is also about the success of the companies in the building, said Goldsmith. For Devinder Bhogal of Deloitte, it was also about creating flexibility in a space that needed to be unique but also simple and future proofed. ‘Nearly 60% of our workforce are millennials’, she said. ‘They all want choice’.

Finally, Sinéad Conneely of Scale Rule and Simple Works said she felt that the City ‘is missing a City-wide sense of place’, and could work to redesign its roads and pavements to ‘take back the streets’ and lessen the ‘crazy’ atmosphere resulting from so many people. She added that another idea might be to use the landscaping design for the Garden Bridge and put it on a road between Monument and Bank. ‘After all’, she said, ‘we technically own that.’

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ



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