Brick: the humble storyteller of the built environment

Brick has a humble yet rich history

The language of bricks

Brick is a humble material with a rich history of development, innovation, politics and technology. For those reasons, it is arguably amongst the most intricate of storytelling components in our built environment. It’s a material that is conspicuously synonymous with English architecture, embodying both rural and urban development. The ability to read and interpret the language of bricks therefore helps us to better perceive our historic – and future – urban environment.  

Early use of brick

Brickwork has been recorded in England since the Roman Era. At this time, bricks comprised heavier, wider, thinner, tile-like bricks fired at an external source and that required two hands for lifting and laying. Given their impracticability – principally caused by size – bricks were subsequently developed in line with the anatomy of the male hand and the ability for them to be individually lifted, manually.

Early firing techniques and hand-made construction often resulted in uneven firing which produced both burnt and undercooked bricks, along with bricks of a deeper or lighter pigment, and varying quality; principally dependent upon their proximity to the heat source.  As such, handmade and/or early brickwork often comprises warped bricks that are, dark purple, grey, red or orange.

Geographical and geological factors

Whilst uneven firing is a significant factor in the varying pigmentation of bricks, other factors might include the region in which bricks were produced. Prior to the development of wider transportation networks, bricks were produced locally, in situ, and therefore throughout the texture, colour and quality of bricks varies throughout the country, depending on the geological properties that were readily available, which in turn contributed toward local vernaculars.

Refining the appearance of brick

The use of bricks was to develop significantly in the Tudor period, and standards, technologies and construction began to improve. At this time, bricks were deliberately used to adorn buildings, perhaps by means of diaper patterns, English and Flemish bond, or spiral, twisted chimney stacks. Notable buildings from this time that reflect this change in innovation, include Hampstead Court (c. 1514) and Fulham Palace (also early 16th century). Despite brick being a humble material, it evolved from a utilitarian material to one communicating status and power.

The high point of brick began in the seventeenth century, although it was from the mid-eighteenth to nineteenth centuries that standards and methods of production were to be considerably improved. Given that symmetry was an important element in architecture, new technologies such as down-firing kilns, and improved standards in clay, moulds and firing techniques were introduced, thus ensuring that bricks were consistent in terms of quality, colour, size and shape. At this time, favoured colours were red, purple, and grey, although by the mid-eighteenth century, yellow stock brick was also popular.  However, rural development continued to embody more local, vernacular approaches to brickwork.

Brick use for railway infrastructure

The introduction of the railway enabled the cheaper construction of bricks, necessitated via the construction of warehouses, bridges, railway lines, tunnels etc. required at this time. By the nineteenth century, brick-making had adopted new, more efficient manufacturing via advances in kiln technology, which enabled still more consistency of colour, size and shape.

Reading the history of our surroundings from brick

Whilst this brief account provides an insight into the evolution of brickwork in England, it is demonstrable that bricks are fundamentally products of their environment. Technology, geology, and locality are all factors resulting in a wide variety of unique bricks, to the extent that, arguably, no two bricks are alike.

In both built and more rural environments, the presence of brick is testament to this evolution, and further reinforced when different types of brick or different phases of development are juxtaposed. When reading brick in this manner, we therefore notice peculiarities in our built environment that fundamentally enriches the experience, understanding and perception of our surroundings.

Ex Cathedra: From the Chair – Do Cathedrals Matter?

In a recent article, the Association of English Cathedrals has posited that “Cathedrals matter”. Whilst perhaps unsurprising to most, this refers to new evidence which confirms the significance of our cathedrals, and that these unrivalled structures do indeed matter.

Their place in our built and/or historic environment is both critical and self-evident, but equally important, is the wholly positive effect these buildings have upon local economies and communities.

Contributions of cathedrals are wide-ranging

2019 saw England’s forty-two Anglican cathedrals contribute £235m to their host cities’ local economies, providing 6,065 jobs and 15,400 volunteering posts, the latter comprising 906,000 hours. Their doors opened to 14.6m visits, 308,000 of which were by schoolchildren, and 9.5m of which by tourists.

The same year saw cathedrals host a wide and varied mix of arts, music, heritage and culture comprising 9,850 events every two to three days, whilst providing the backdrop to numerous television and film projects.

From a social perspective, they hosted foodbanks, ran support groups for the vulnerable, unemployed and homeless, whilst running outreach programmes to schools, residential homes, hospitals, lunch clubs, parent/toddler groups and community cafes.

Not just for worship

As part of the A programme, more than two thirds of cathedrals are assisting the Church of England achieve carbon reduction targets by 2030. 

Building upon studies from 2004 and 2014, recent research comprising The Economic and Social Impact of Cathedrals in England and produced by research consultancy Ecorys for The Association of English Cathedrals, sought to establish how cathedrals utilise assets to encourage not merely mission, but more general well-being.

This demonstrates the continuing relevance of these deeply historic buildings to their communities, and not merely for the purposes of worship alone.

Cathedrals DO matter

Here, cathedrals and their fabric are shown to be not only well cared for, but to be socially and economically key with respect to their stewardship of history and the country’s associated musical, artistic and spiritual inheritance, whilst serving their communities and other stakeholders in myriad ways.      

During the pandemic, visitor numbers declined by seventy five percent from 2019, with a commensurate decline in visitor income, and over seventy percent of cathedral staff being furloughed. Combined with an 80 percent fall in income due to the decreased use of cathedral facilities, along with limited congregations and therefore collections, the outlook appeared bleak.

But cathedrals matter and this has never been clearer than during the pandemic, which has seen the clear advent of new opportunity. Although 75 percent of social projects foundered, services such as food deliveries and online facetime for pastoral support have emerged. Worship has also gone online with – on average – cathedrals providing two Sunday services and six midweek services. 

Technology has further assisted outreach via initiatives including online prayer walls, candle lighting, tours, pilgrim trails and art exhibitions.  At the close of 2020, one third of cathedrals offered online resources for schools, tours, talks and activity packs.

The value of cathedrals is widely recognised and they have been supported as such

It is not only heartening to find that today’s cathedral remains fit to adapt and respond to rapidly changing and challenging circumstances, but as institutions, continue to remain valued across a wider arena.

Here, cathedrals benefitted from new, corona-virus grant programmes from not only the Church Commissioners, but also the government and other independent bodies. Such grants totalled £27.8m and were largely spent on repairs to enable the safe opening of cathedrals, whilst maintaining key activities.

In short, Ecorys’ research has found that cathedrals continue to contribute significantly toward their local economies, whilst maintaining a positive impact upon local communities. This research further establishes that – whilst challenging – the pandemic has elicited new creative prospects that render the cathedral as relevant as ever.

Their position, prominence and role in our lives is not merely writ large in our townscape, but still more patently, across local communities and the social cohesion and buoyancy of these during trying times. Which is all well and good, but unlikely to be the case without the buildings themselves. Cathedrals do indeed matter.  Long may they last.

Sources and Further Reading:

Egg and Dart – a captivating architectural ornament

The egg and dart ornament appears frequently in the historic architectural landscape, such as this example at St Marys Church, Warwick

The English built environment is one of layers, variety, and cohesion. Its development – which spans over centuries – has resulted in a conglomerate of styles, representations and features that are characteristic of their time. As a result, exploring and observing these features create different experiences that are unique to their environments. That being said, when observing more closely, viewers can recognise that certain ornamental features and styles often reoccur.

Such is the case for the ubiquitous use of egg-and-dart ornament.

Egg and what?

Sometimes referred to as egg-and-tongue, egg-and-anchor or even egg-and-star, this simple yet captivating ornament has been used in England since the medieval times and can therefore be identified in various architectural examples throughout the country. It is created by alternating between an oval shape, which resembles an egg, and a narrow dart and/or arrow. It is stated in the Dictionary of Ornament (1985) that egg-and-dart is ‘one of the most widely used classical mouldings […] to enrich and Ovolo moulding such as the echinus on Ionic Capitals.’ In turn, it creates a ‘rhythmic and repetitive pattern of curved and non-curved elements [that creates] delicate and detailed designs’ (

The egg and dart ornament appears frequently in the historic architectural landscape, such as this example at St Marys Church, Warwick
An example of the Egg and Dart ornament at St. Marys Church, Warwick

What is the origin of this architectural feature?

Whilst it originated in ancient Greece, there are various speculations regarding its symbolisms and iconography. For example, it could be a representation of ‘life and death’ (, 2013), or originated as a ‘lotus border and alternating bunches of grapes’ (Dictionary of Ornament, 1985), or it could represent ‘Greek soldiers holding shields and spears’ (  

How is it created?

This bas-relief ornamentation is usually carved in wood, stone or plaster and can – most commonly – be found on the echinus, friezes, or columns of classically inspired buildings. Egg-and-dart was frequently used in the English built environment, particularly in the 19th century, and its adoption within an English context has resulted in its use not only on Ionic columns, but also in churches and other internal decorative features.

Where can it be seen?

Despite egg-and-dart being a small ornamental feature, it has adorned large scale and prolific buildings such as St Pauls, the British Museum, and the Queens House, Greenwich. Other, more modest examples include the columns found along Brook Street, London, and internal mouldings and cornices in domestic buildings.

Curiously, egg-and-dart has also been translated into a medieval context, as it has appeared in churches such as St. Mary’s Warwick. Although not as commonly used as other medieval decorative features such as chevron, beakhead or dogs-tooth, when exploring with an inquisitive eye the use of this classical motif can be spotted in medieval structures. In addition to its appropriation by different architectural styles, its ongoing use has created various types of egg-and-dart.

This subservient classical ornament appears in the most unlikely of places when you know to look for it

Despite its frequent appearance in the historic landscape, this subservient ornament often goes undetected and/or unnoticed. Its location, typically in cornices, mouldings, and columns requires viewers to look up and have a more active and inquisitive interaction with their surroundings. However, once identified, egg-and-dart will be recognisable in the most unlikely of places and can help viewers gain an appreciation for the language of classical ornamentation.

Sources and further reading:

Lewis, Philippa, and Gillian Darley. (1985). Dictionary of Ornament. London: Macmillian

Legacies of Olympic Games’ Venues

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London now has new purpose that continues the lasting community spirit of the Olympic games

The 2020 Olympics are well underway in Tokyo, Japan. Whilst eager to witness incredible athletic achievements, there is an equal sense of anticipation to view the structures and developments of urbanism and town planning that have been carefully and thoughtfully designed to encapsulate these moments and are, for the decades to come, embedded with the ethos underpinning modern Olympics.

A combination of new and reused structures

Although new purpose built structures include the Japan National Stadium by Kuma, ‘several venues that were completed for the previous Olympics in Tokyo in 1964’ have been reused (Dezeen, 22.07.2021). The repurposing of structures has therefore raised the question; to what extent are former Olympic villages reused? 

This is a query that is reverberated in London, which has been host to the Olympics on three separate occasions. Hosted most recently in 2012, the atmosphere and the memories that have been engendered at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford continues to resonate with spectators today, although, arguably, in a different social and architectural context.

The London Olympic Park repurposing efforts has received mixed reviews

The area, wherein evidence from the Bronze Age, and Victorian period have been identified, the Stratford Marshland remained largely unoccupied throughout the late 19th to 20th century (The Guardian, 27.07.2017). Cartographic evidence shows that whilst its environs were developed with mills and factories, the area itself was only developed as recently as 1995.

As such, the development of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park would have resulted in a change of use in the first instance and its ongoing use would further diverge from its working-class historic context. In doing so, and as acknowledged in the article Legacy, what legacy? Five years on the London Olympic Park Battle Still Rages (The Guardian, 27.07.2017), its development received mixed reviews not merely upon its construction but also in the ongoing efforts to reuse and repurpose this large, purpose-built space.

What is the London Olympic park like now?

Nearly a decade following the London Olympics, the area is now populated with large business, event spaces, a shopping centre, and mixed-housing. A breadth of visitors from all over are welcomed by the conglomerate of different activities, venues and parks.

Examples of reuse include the London Stadium which is now the home of West Ham United Football Club and the ‘Pringle’ which continues to be used for recreational and leisure activities, and mixed-housing. The Olympic venues have also encouraged other developments in this area such as the development of educational campuses, including UCL’s Here East.

New meaning for the spirit of the Olympic games

Although these approaches to reuse are notable for their economic prosperity, it is acknowledged in the article (The Guardian, 27.07.2017) that, for example, the Clays Lane Housing Estate was purchased and demolished to accommodate the Olympic master plan. The article has also raised that the area is strictly managed as a means to prevent anti-social behaviours. Despite this, the article acknowledges that the area is a nice and demographically diverse place to live and visit.

The community and social environment can therefore be understood to have persisted in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and therefore the spirit of the Olympic games, which are becoming a distant memory, have taken on new meaning in its evolving urban context which will ensure that its legacy continues to thrive for the decades to come.

Sources and further reading:

New 3D printed bridge opens in Amsterdam

The new Amsterdam MX3D 3D printed bridge

This past week, the long awaited MX3D Bridge, the first 3D printed bridge, was unveiled in Amsterdam across the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. The pedestrian bridge, which commenced six years ago, has been ‘fabricated from stainless steel rods by six-axis robotic arms equipped with welding gear’ in a factory and craned onto site (Dezeen, 19 July 2021). This innovative structure embodies the evolution of fabrication and craftsmanship whilst also creating a curious precedent for pushing the boundaries of architecture and what this might mean for the future of the historic urban environment.

A familiar construction

The bridge is constructed of stainless steel and as such, juxtaposes against the existing pallet of brick, stucco and stone – that is prominent along the waterfront – in a way that recalls the 18th and 19th century Industrial Revolution. This era had an unapologetic use of exposed wrought and cast iron and its significance in the English built environment resulted in rapidly developed and transformed cities, societal changes and new architectural forms (Britannica, 21 July, 2021).

Historic examples from this movement throughout England include the Bridge over the River Sever in Shropshire (1779), the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (1818-21), and Crystal Palace in London (built in 1851, demolished 1936) amongst many others. Despite the resistance against industrialisation due to its divergence from traditional craftsmanship, the benefits of this time are still felt and appreciated in architecture today – as evidenced in the creation of the MX3D Bridge.

Modern architecture now has new roles to fulfil to realise these types of structures

In this regard, the ambitions that have driven the success of the MX3D Bridge in Amsterdam echo’s the narrative of the 18th century Industrial Revolution via its machine operated and robotic technology. In doing so, the role of the modern architect has been redefined where this now largely includes coding and software design as well as craftsmanship.

That being said, this leads to question the contemporary role of the craftsman and its place within architecture, and how this ongoing narrative may further omit this trade and the repercussions this may have on the future of the historic environment. On the other hand, what has been created in Amsterdam is a unique and engaging precedent for how innovations in technology can help create a distinctively modern way of interacting with existing built forms.

How did they produce the 3D printed surface texture?

The 3D printed surface created a texture that, arguably, has not been experienced in the built environment yet. The texture is created by the welding and layering of metal that has created small and tight ridges and as such the surface is left as it is. There is an authenticity and honesty in this texture that is created by this new technique, one that communicates the contemporary and distinctively modern approach to its construction.

A new era for architecture and construction, with inspiration from the Industrial Revolution

In sum, there is a revival of the 18th and 19th century movement via the reimagination of the limitations of steel construction in our high-tech world and as such, is an exciting innovative step forward in the realm of architecture. The materiality and the mode of construction are distinctively of their time and as a result would engender curious and engaging interactions with the existing historic environment.

Sources and further reading:

Plyscrapers! Timber high-rise buildings are becoming a growing trend

Plyscrapers: a resurgence in timber framed buildings, even for skyscrapers. Photo credit: By Øyvind Holmstad - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Materiality is a significant factor in the built environment. Not only does the palette used have significant visual and/or aesthetic implications for the external envelope of a structure and its incorporation into its surroundings, but can also result in positive and/or negative interactions with these buildings on a personal level, whilst assisting long-term sustainability more generally.

Within the context of high-rise buildings, the choice of building material has traditionally included steel, iron and concrete, which has resulted in visually intriguing if not astounding structures. However, in recent years there has been a growing tendency toward experimentation with timber high-rise buildings – also known as ‘Plyscrapers’ – as a more sustainable and more socially beneficial material.  

Considerations for timber structures

Although timber is amongst one of the oldest building materials, following devastation caused by the Great Fire of London in 1666, building regulations and more general stigma has restricted its use. However, the contemporary and innovative resurgence of timber can serve to reimagine its character and place within the urban environment, whilst doing so in a sustainable and aesthetically exciting way.

The recent BBC video ‘Will We All Live in ‘Plyscrapersin the Future?’ has considered interesting benefits concerning sustainability as a result of using timber for high-rise buildings. These include carbon capture, improved structural integrity using CLT (cross laminated timber), and reducing carbon emission by 4 %.

Timber elicits positive responses

In addition to ecological benefits, timber is commonly admired for effecting warmth, comfort, and positive physiological and psychological benefits. In addition to other health benefits, it helps users reconnect with nature. Further effects are widely acknowledged throughout the wider environment.

The Concise Townscape (Gordon Cullen, 1971) notes that ‘Trees and buildings have always borne a special relationship to each other … so great as to demand a reassessment of the relationship between the two … Today the art of bringing trees and buildings together is based on the tree lending its richness to buildings, and on buildings pointing out the architectural qualities of trees so that the two together make one ensemble.

But more fundamentally – with respect to the use made of timber in individual buildings – Dezeen (November, 2015) notes that wood ‘… makes the most amazingly beautiful spaces. These are buildings that feel very good to be in…

The reimagining of timber ensues

‘Plyscrapers’ have therefore begun to emerge from the English skyline. Such buildings include the 33-meter-high apartment block in Shoreditch by Hawkins Brown, and the nine-storey Murray Grove in Hackney by Waugh Thisleton. In 2016, a proposal was forwarded by PLP Architecture and researchers from Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture, which entailed a 300-meter-tall timber high-rise for the Barbican Estate.  

The reimagining of a traditional material in this way results in a refreshing, dynamic, yet warm juxtaposition against today’s intensively glass, concrete and steel environment. This would undoubtedly elevate the urban experience from a perspective of streetscape, whilst creating visually engaging spaces that are also a pleasure to use whilst proving environmentally beneficial.

Sources and further reading:

Gordon Cullen. The Concise Townscape. Oxford: Great Britain. 1971, p.168.

“More Front than Blackpool”: Liverpool Risks Loss of World Heritage Status

It is reported that a UNESCO committee is to advise the removal of Liverpool’s World Heritage status, first bestowed in 2004. Whilst encompassing wider historic commercial districts, in general terms, this lines the City’s world-renowned waterfront.

Otherwise, its status rests upon the history of the City as a major international trading port in the C18 and C19, where it played a key role in not only the emergence of the British Empire and as a locus of migration, but also the transatlantic slave trade.

The World Heritage Committee has referred to “serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes”

Although its potential relegation is not news – where, due to modern redevelopment of the iconic waterfront, said demotion has been considered for over a decade – whether its status will remain intact, will be confirmed in July.

Despite the City Council claiming an investment of 1.5 billion into one hundred and fifty-seven heritage assets (the Albert Dock area hosts more Grade I listed buildings than any other place in the UK), a report from the World Heritage Committee has expressed “deep regret” at what has been termed the “serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes”.

Liverpool Waters and the new Everton FC stadium at Bramley Moore Dock were among those developments specifically referred to in the report.

The City has failed to take notice of repeated warnings

Heritage campaigner Wayne Colquhoun said that the City has ignored continual warnings concerning new development, and that “If you’re going to fill [that] dock in – as a mercantile and maritime city on top of already filling the other docks in – you’re displaying that over your universal value. They’ve pushed the boundaries and pushed it and pushed it.”

The Government has stated “We are disappointed in this recommendation and will continue to work with UNESCO, Historic England and Liverpool City Council to ensure the World Heritage Committee can make an informed decision when its meets next month.”

Are decisions being made remotely in light of Covid-19 fair?

Joanne Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, has requested the deferment of any decision for twelve months, where any such demotion would in her view be “hugely unfair”.

“We need [them] to see Bramley Moore Dock with their own eyes – physically or virtually,” she went on, where the removal of World Heritage status would prove a “missed opportunity in demonstrating to the world that heritage and regeneration are not mutually exclusive.”

Steve Rotherham, mayor of Liverpool City Region, also finds the proposal “deeply disappointing” and has called on the committee to reconsider. He writes “We are proud of our history but our heritage is a vital part of our regeneration. I’d urge them to take up our invitation to visit rather than taking their decision sat around a table on the other side of the world.”

They have a point. Principally due to the pandemic, but also the perpetual claim of under- resourcing, many important decisions – planning or otherwise – are now being made remotely, and by fundamentally detached bodies. As such, decisions will often be insufficiently informed, and therefore deeply flawed.

A balance between heritage and successful new development must always be sought

For obvious reasons, drawings or CGIs rarely reflect reality on the ground. And, for better or worse, Liverpool is not London and must be canny with its economy, for not merely the sake of its heritage, but also its community; for without one, there is not the other.

That being said – as suggested by both Anderson and Rotherham – the correlation between heritage and successful new development is a key factor in not only regeneration, but conservation, and, whilst admittedly fine, a degree of balance must be sought.

Concerning Liverpool Waters, Lindsey Asworth of Peel Developments has stated:

“Its simply not right to expect derelict parts of cities with such a rich history to stand still and be fossilised. This consent will open up opportunities and new prospects to link our UK businesses with other international businesses. Liverpool is now well placed to be alongside the best of the best.” It is not merely desirable that new and old exist cheek by jowl – resulting in environments that are authentic, rich, buoyant, dynamic and full of vigour – but essential.

Sources and further reading:

Art in the Age of Now: art brings Fulham Town Hall back to life

Among the high number of significant architectural gems located throughout West London, the former Fulham Town Hall is particularly striking. Located on Fulham Road, adjacent Fulham Broadway Station, the redundant town hall is a captivating structure and one that draws the attention of visitor and local alike.

A snapshot of Fulham Town Hall’s history

Its robust presence was designed by George Edwards in 1888-1890 and includes a handsomely ornamented exterior with Italianate influences and a twentieth century Baroque Extension designed by Francis Wood in 1904-1905. Given its special architectural and historic interest, the former Town Hall was as such designated Grade II* on 31st of July 1981.

Given the changes to Fulham’s social, economic and environmental circumstances over time, it became redundant as a town hall from 1965 and, whilst still intermittently used for offices and events, has remained vacant for the past decade. Now closed behind iron rail gates and sealed by large oak doors, it is no longer accessible to the wider public. That is, until recently.

Art has recently given the building a new purpose, but with the interiors left in tact (degradation included)

From May 20th – for the first time in over a decade – Fulham Town Hall’s doors reopened to welcome visitors back into its interior space via a new art exhibit, Art in the Age of Now. This free exhibition gave visitors the freedom to explore and discover not only hundreds of art works but also the ‘seen and unseen’ spaces of Fulham Town Hall in what is an immersive and unique experience.

Here, the extravagance of the exterior can be seen to have been reciprocated throughout the interior, with tall ceilings, elegant stairwells, beautiful tiling, large halls and a wealth of lavish materials, colours and textures. That being said, it obviously remained in an state of deterioration as a direct result of its long vacancy.

The art works made effective use of all available spaces including rooms, corridors, halls, ceilings and floors, and, when juxtaposed against interior’s currently poor condition, have resulted in an unexpected interconnectedness. The exhibit not only utilises the space as it is – unapologetically, given the degree of loss and erosion evident there – but has been curated in such a way that ensures existing spaces compliment and remain in dialogue with individual pieces.

Some areas of the building look like works of art in their own right as a result of the art installations

Within this context, some of the art works cause no undue harm to original fabric, with examples including projections, or free-standing installations, frames and sculptures; all of which result in negligible impacts upon the listed building. Otherwise, some exhibits have been far more intrusive in terms of original fabric, as artists have (temporarily) executed their pieces directly onto the walls, ceilings and floors, which has in turn transformed these spaces – particularly the basement – into works of art in their own right.

Both approaches result in unique interaction between audience, artworks and space, and as a result, the exhibition and associated impacts are – in the main – understood to be wholly beneficial; principally by repopulating and making effective use of space, where the interrelationship between use and preservation is widely recognised a fundament of best conservation practice.

Here, reimagining existing yet eroded and redundant spaces has reinvigorated the vacant building whilst establishing an inspiring precedence for not only the future of the Fulham Town Hall, but also the reuse of all derelict buildings alike.

See it here:

The Future is Old: a fascinating and thought provoking glimpse of London over the next 100 years

Futurescape - a view of London and how it might change over the next 100 years

Chatham House – of the renowned Chatham House Rule – is an independent policy institute and forum that (in their own words) seeks to assist the understanding of societies, governments and people, in a rapidly changing world.

To mark the thinktank’s 100-year anniversary, last month saw their unveiling of a 3D model that shows how London will look in 100 years and that ‘allows the public to explore a future of positive change.’  Here, the public can explore cities of the future, using Piccadilly Circus as an example.

Intended to ‘stimulate debate about the future of our cities over the next century’ – particularly pertinent given those places suddenly and drastically unpeopled by COVID -the model considers the real need to support increasingly sustainable living in urban centres, whilst urging new conversations about what people actually want there.

Introducing Futurescape

Futurescape emerged following consultation with scientists, architects, designers, sustainability experts and trend analysts concerning the need to create more positive futures for our urban environment; a need that is eternally evolving and in essence, never goes away. We struggle to get it right.

How might the future London look?

With Futurescape, four future dates are envisaged. In 2035, greenery and wildlife have been introduced into the city centre, whilst pedestrians share space with bikes, scooters and drones. CO2 emissions are therefore reduced; storytelling benches relate oral histories; and a solar-panelled food market offers new sources of protein (insects). Commerce and cars have no place.

In 2060, climate change and rising water levels result in new canal systems, whilst buildings, transport and businesses are sustained by renewable energy. Produce is increasingly local – utilising rooftops and waterways – whilst public space offers new, technology-based art forms such as hologram shows. Retail space is given over to leisure, and upcycling, upgrading and exchange have become standard.

By 2090 the clairvoyance perhaps runs out of steam – being fairly difficult to foresee accurately – albeit the environment is by then shaped by vertical farms, giant energy and lighting structures, new religious identities and floating, ‘sky barge’ dwellings. 2121 sees a prevalence of AI, buildings that shapeshift according to need and desire, and low gravity marketing pods that simulate Lunar or Martian living.

A future that remains rooted in the past

Futurescape – as intended – is undoubtedly an interesting basis for discussion concerning a subject in dire need of consideration. It’s also a lot of fun besides. But what is most heartening – despite the unambiguously futuristic cityscape that can be seen to coalesce around the Circus over the hundred years – is that many of its more famous monuments and buildings survive, with the real hub remaining Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain and its statue of Anteros.

As such, the future can be seen to remain explicitly rooted in the past. Here, the ongoing narrative evidenced by retained heritage, shows the central role to be played by conservation in the prospective making of our places. In an increasingly fast world – amidst what Chatham House describes as ‘seismic change’ – the survival ofoldfriends like Anteros nevertheless continue to provide some quantum of stability and security.

See it here:

Rhodes to Ruin: the planning and moral complexities of removing the Cecil Rhodes statue from Oriel College

Rhodes Building, Oriel College. By Robert Cutts -, CC BY-SA 2.0,

An independent Commission has reported to Oriel College’s Governing Body concerning the legacy of controversial mining magnate, politician, imperialist and former Oxford student, Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902).

Established due to the Governing Body’s wish to remove a statue of Rhodes from Oriel’s Grade II* High Street building, the Commission was also tasked with reviewing how the ‘College’s twenty-first century commitment to diversity can sit more easily with its past’.

Complex planning challenges resulting in a change of decision

Fundamentally, the Commission supports the Governing Body’s intent to remove the statue. However, the undoubted complexity, challenges and associated expense that would ensue (principally from a planning perspective and with respect to impacts upon a listed building etc.), has led to the further decision not to embark upon its removal.

It will instead seek to contextualise the College’s connection with Rhodes, whilst improving educational equality more generally, which is obviously commendable. As is the fact that proposals to remove the statue of Rhodes were not implemented arbitrarily and without due consideration.

And whilst memorialising Rhodes is perhaps unpalatable in some quarters, the removal of his statue for political reasons would seriously impinge upon (if not entirely override) the fundamentally democratic process of planning, whilst setting a very dangerous precedent otherwise.  

We should not attempt to manipulate history, but learn from mistakes made

Without diving into Orwellian cliches, history – in whatever form it takes and as nebulous as it perhaps is – should never be forgotten, erased or manipulated in any way, shape or form. The resulting dangers are not only clear but present and, whilst perhaps obvious, patently not obvious enough. 

Simplistically, this is because one of history’s  principal functions is to remind us of the mistakes from which we might learn and, in turn, the role of heritage assets to serve as reminders of the good, bad and ugly of our past. History is inquiry – and therefore debate – but necessarily depends upon evidence.

Otherwise, physical heritage performs a high number and variety of key functions in society, not least of which – from a perspective of urban design – includes the role of wayfinding and the means by which we orientate ourselves in our environment.  

Heritage has an important role in the function of our moral compass

Such a role extends to our orientation and consequent wayfinding from an ethical perspective. Here, heritage assets further serve to assist the functioning of our moral compass; principally by means of retelling that which should be celebrated or condemned, so that one may be perpetuated, and the other, appropriately left to history.

And whatever you think of the planning system, one fundamental precept is that of sustainable development; defined by the NPPF as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.’ Which essentially  means not deciding what is good for future generations, whilst taking away the ability to decide this for themselves.  

Whilst perhaps hackneyed with respect to subjects of this sort, it is worth quoting Orwell’s 1984 after all:

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.

Which is an outcome none of us would wish.