On 8 November around 300 members and non-members of the Society came together in St Marylebone Parish Church to hear Sir Terry Farrell give this year's Sir Banister Fletcher Lecture which he called "Shaping London". Saul Collyns reports.
In the 2016 Sir Banister Fletcher Memorial Lecture,renowned architect and urban planner Sir Terry Farrell, set out a fascinating viewpoint of London that revealed new connections between London’s past, present and future.
Farrell began by underlining the importance of ‘place as client’ as the guiding principle of his work. He believes in examining what a place aspires to be, separating it from any client base in order to fully understand its intricacies.
Farrell's place-based approach has compelled him to study the different factors that have shaped London's development, and he captivated us with some of his findings. London has grown organically, with much of its geography dictated by the River Thames. A fascination with the river's bends led Farrell to realise that it was always deeper on the outside bend, with a build up of silt on the inner bend. As the city grew, large settlements such as Kingston and Richmond were built on the outer bends, which are easily navigable by boat, whereas parks or areas of low land value are located on the inner bends (notably the city’s numerous docks). A lack of river crossings in east London has also impeded connectivity and thus development. No flat-level bridges (which Farrell considers to be a crucial component of city making) cross the Thames downstream of Tower Bridge, so Farrell recently proposed a plan for 8 new low-rise bridges to the east, which would provide much needed connectivity to support more housing development.
The Thames’ tributaries, many of which travel beneath us, are little known yet have also affected how London is shaped. The tributaries once dissected the city, with the Fleet dividing the City of London at high tide, when it was uncrossable. Both industry and housing grew up alongside tributaries, yet habitable rivers such as the Tyburn resisted industry, segregating industrial and non-industrial land use. Although no longer above ground, the effect is still evident today: the Tyburn runs under the Royal Parks whereas railway lines, cemeteries and football stadiums are located alongside the former industrial tributaries such as the Wandle and the Lea.
Farrell then recounted how the railways have shaped north and south London differently. Railways into London from the north typically carried a lot of freight, and were thus held back from central London, terminating on Marylebone Road. The railways coming in from the south predominantly carried passengers, as there was less industry, and were therefore 'allowed' across the Thames into central termini such as Charing Cross and Blackfriars, forging a landscape of high level viaducts across south London. And because development generally accompanies transport infrastructure, construction on land alongside the railway lines radiating from the city compromises the integrity of the green belt. Farrell attested that ‘linear belts’ of protected land free from railways or other transport infrastructure would be more effective.
Through Farrell’s study of place the need to adequately provide for pedestrians has resonated strongly, and he lobbies on their behalf extensively. Farrell recounted how in a study of traffic on Marylebone Road he calculated that the number of pedestrians using the road was ten times greater than the number of people using vehicles, so he successfully argued for changes to the prioritisation of traffic lights and crossings. Farrell also advocates for more green links across the capital, calling for London to be designated a National Park City. He noted that the 2.8 million hectares of garden in London contain the richest biodiversity in the South East (and which wouldn't exist without the road and urban infrastructure required by a city).
‘How will London grow in the future?’, Farrell was asked, and he responded by stressing the importance of not ‘leaping into the latest fad’. For example, in the 1940s Abercrombie proposed an eight lane inner ring road cutting through neighbourhoods such as Farringdon and Primrose Hill.
We took much away from Farrell’s lecture, perhaps most importantly his philosophy of questioning ‘what does a place want to be?’, examining the different factors that have shaped it over time as part of the process. This allows a place to grow organically and be opportunistically planned, which is how Farrell believes that the greatest cities succeed.