Architectural Dialogue has been catering for architectural enthusiasts coming to London since 1996.
We have hosted groups from 1 to 60, (occasionally more: architects, developers, engineers, other professionals in the field of architecture and urban design . . . and those who are simply enthusiastic about architecture.
Those people came from all around the world.
Our aim is to talk about architecture from the inside, as architects.
We customise every itinerary to the group we are hosting – whether its interest is simply what is generally happening, or is very specific. (We like a general interest, because that means we can, in the time available, show you the best of what is going on.)
Our principal guide is Ken Allinson. Ken is the author of two books on design and project management, and has produced six editions of a Guide to London's Contemporary Architecture (the 6th ed. is with Victoria Thornton and was publshed in June 2014.
Welcome to a dialogue about London's architecture ... (Including live pavement drawing!)
AD offers you half-day or full-day tours.
Every tour is different, depending on where you stay, how many are in the group, how long you are here and, of course, what your interests are. – which could include meeting with other professionals who share similar interests.
Make an enquiry and we'll see what can be set up for you.
The one thing you can be sure of is our enthusiasm for architecture.
We don't arrange flights for you, but once you get here we can arrange coaches, people-carriers, taxis or (proabbaly the best way to experience London) advise you on using public transport. We can suggest hotels (although we have no specific links and ask you to make your own enquiries) and advise on the best areas to locate yourselves.
London seems to be booming yet again. Local offices such as Allies & Morrison, and AHMM are about 300 strong and searching for staff – quite a change from a few years ago. Cranes are everywhere.
Before you hit the streets, we can provide you with an illustrated introductory talk from Ken Allinson, author of the 6th edition of London's Contemporary Architecture (2014) and The Architects of London (2009).
The talk will introduce you to what is going on in London now, and provide a contextural background to recent development projects.
Talks will be given at the offices of Open-City (founders of the Open House London project), near to St Katharine's Dock.
Let AD show you what is happening in London now.
Among London's largest renewal projects is the redevelopment of the Kings Cross area (xlaimed to be the largest in Europe). It has been some thirty years in coming, but in the last few years has come together at a remarkable speed.
A good example of new housing at Kings Cross include this Arthouse project by dRMM, who have achieved quite a status among both architects and developers.
The principal 'cultural' building at Kings Cross is the Central St Martins School of Art, designed by Stanton Williams and making a clever integration of old and new.
Most of the London buildings and features you will be interested in will be in the central zones – see the AD Mapguide.
We also (if you are willing) like to take you out into areas tourists are less likely to visit. But then simply finding the city's interetsing mix of architecture will do this for us anyway.
And, since there is more to London than buildings (everything from restaurants to football matches to the theatre, for example), we do our best to advise and accommodate you on what to do, where to go and (most importantly) how this fits into an itinerary of experiencing London's architecture.
Hidden London? There is no such thing. Don't believe anyone who says there is. London, in full, is always there, before your eyes. Follow up web sites, of course, but try hopping onto any bus. There are lots of them and they provide a terrific service (24/7). See where it takes you ... You'll probably get lost, but then you simply have to hop on another bus – you'll probably end up in Oxford Street, with these other buses:
The Spring in London burst upon us at AD with tours for an ad agency from Stravanger who wanted to see housing, were shown some dRMM works and then confessed their client was the developer for dRMM work in Norway. We also had 40 architects from an architectural firm in Oslo and an interesting group of 14 estate managers from 14 different Dutch universities. The latter went to three campuses in London and one in Oxford, meeting fellow-estate managers (and being shocked at how large the budgets are in Oxford!). The visits included the popular new student Union building at the London School of Economics (by O'Donnell & Tuomey), where we were received by the Director of Estates.
Below: the Dutch university estate managers at a large student accommodation building at Stratford, and at a supper at The Modern Pantry. The building (for 1000 students) is not the finest work of architecture in London, but the visit was very useful to this group, as was their other university visits in London and a trip we organised to the Universaity of Oxford.
London is not that hard to understand once you appreciate that it has a very disctinctive and simple urban geography ... well, sortof .... We can help you. And once you grasp the basics, you can continue to explore and give London your own, personal identity.
Why are so many architects and other designers located in Clerkenwell? We can tell you.
Where were they before. We can tell you?
What makes Kensington and Chelsea so peculiar and unique? We can tell you.
Why were the Olympics located where they were and what issue were at stake? We can tell you ...
The River Thames is the proverbial 'life-blood' of the metropolis. It divides the northern areas from the south, but also signifies what unites them. Without the river there would have been little of the shipping traffic that established and sustained the wealth of London. Whereas it was once an open sewer, it has now (you will be pleased to know) been cleaned up. People actually do fish there.
Today, we not only have bridges across the river, but railways stations – such as Blackfriars Station, which sports an array of solar panels along its whole length.
Perhaps the most famous of the River Tjames bridges is the Arup–Foster Millennium Bridge:
Once you recognise the importance of the river and how it has served London, you have to take account of two two historic urban areas focused upon two churches: St Paul's cathedral in the City of London, and Westminster Abbey (the church of St Peter) in the government area to the west. Both were founded in the 7th century.
After that there is a simple pattern and a simple historical dynamic that becomes increasingly complex and nuanced as one investigates it. And that is where Architectural Dialogue can help you to make sense of London as a whole: the persoanal sense that you want it to have.
The 6th Edition of London's Contemporary Architecture (An Explorer's Guide) was published on May 28th.
We have also published an accompanying mapguide to London's most central parts. This is available from Open-City and places such as the Royal Institute of British Architects (in Portland Place, near Oxford Circus).
Peter Murray, Chairman New London Architecture and The London Society, says: "London’s Contemporary Architecture has long been an essential and perceptive guide to the new buildings and places of the UK capital, but this revised edition brings new clarity to the amazing transformation that has taken place in the city since Ken and Victoria published their first edition 20 years ago – an essential read for all students of London, visitors and locals alike." It's available on Amazonor the Open-City charity – please buy a copy and leave a review.
So what is new in London since the last edition of Ken & Victoria's Guide? The fact that over 230 high-rise buildings above 20 stories each are now in the planning pipeline tells its own story. The fact that Canary Wharf is about to double in size tells a story. That the Kings Cross development (the largest in Europe, the developers claim) tells a story. The post-Olympics developments at Stratford (around the Queen Elizabeth Park, as it is now called) are surging ahead. Everywhere one looks there is a construction site.
London, in other words, is going through one of its periodic historic bursts of energy and growth. We expect the population to grow by one million in the next few years (It is currently 8.3m and will be 9m in 2019 (the largest ever). Click on the image below for a link to animated data on London's changing population.
London is again a thriving construction site and its architectural practices have lots of work.
Interestingly, the metropolis exhibits has works from a number of foreign architects: Herzog & de Meuron are now doing their third building (an extension for the Tate Modern, soon to be comlete) and have another one lined up (an apartment building at Canary Wharf); Renzo Piano Workshop has two (Central St Giles and teh Shard); Jean Nouvel has one (One new Change); Rafael Vinoly has one( the Walkie-Talkie ,in Fenchurch Street). Meanwhile the Americans who arrived in the mid-1980s are still here: SOM, Pelli (with a new buildingin the rapidly changing Victoria Street area), KPF and Swanke Hayden, for example.
Below: looking south from the Gherkin. In the foreground, Foster's Willis building; Rogers' Lloyd's 86 building. In the centre: Vinoly's 'Walkie-Talkie' (or, Walkie-Scorchie',(now almost complete). In the background: Renzo Piano Workshop's Shard.
To accompany our Contemporary London guidebook we have also produced a Mapguide.
In contrast to the world of professionalised architecture, life goes on at street scenes such as Borough Market.
Or there is Camden Market, where architectural design becomes something quite different ... It's now a rather touristy place, but still fun and still a refreshing comparison corporate and governmental London.
... and there are also such places such as Hacknwety, Peckham and Dalston to go to (the latter, especially on a Saturday night; forget Shoreditch).
Welcome to Stratford, former home of the 2012 Olympic Games and now well into realising its Games 'legacy'. But perhaps you will find the London context more interesting:
Alternatively, you could take a swim in Hadid's swimming pool (the detailing is very good):
Surprisingly (this is the Olympics!), some of the detialing is very good. The people's vote may have gone to the Hopkins velodrome, but the money obvioulsy went into the Hadid building.
London's newest public space has opened in leadenhall, in the City – and it's very impressive (the Leadenhall building by Rogers Stirk harbour, oppoiste the Lloyd's '86 building and Foster's Gherkin)
Meanwhile, over at the British Museum, the new WCEC (World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre) extension designed Rogers Stirk Harbour has just been completed.
The Foster-designed Great Court at the BM is still terrific (although this photo was taken on a very, very quiet day! Add about 5000 other people and you have a better idea of what it is usually like, particularly in the summer):
Coming in October? You might still have time to see the latest Serpentine gallery pavilion (designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić). It's open until October 17th.
It's basically a fibreglass shell, housing a cafe and(characteristically) sat upon a set of large rocks that have been drilled through to take the steel frame that holds up timber decking and the fibreglass.
Nearby you will find the Princess Diana memorial fountains (by Gustafsen Porter) – well, not fountains at all, and rather fun on a sunny day when it's nice just to walk around the Serpentine lake, take tea or coffee in the restaurants, row a boat ...
Below. In case you missed it: the street magician Dynamo, over 1000 feet above the ground, as if hovering in mid-air at the Shard ... (He's that dot, right at the top.)
The Shard isn't everyone's favourite building (it's arguably in the wrong location, hits the ground in a less-than-satisfactory way, doesn't tell you what is in there (offices, restaurants, hotel and apartments), destroys the view to the dome of St Paul's from Parliament Hill, etc.) but has terrific views – as here, looking down upon the commuter railway tracks comming into London Bridge Station.
If you want views at a lesser price, try the London Eye. It's a terrific design (by Marks Barfield).
The first phase of new Foster work at the Imperial War Museum has opened. Despite being a place of 'boys with their toys', the IWM is always interesting (especially the Holocaust Gallery), but the Foster work is somewhat dense and overwhelming. See it and make up your own mind. It is, as the journalists say, 'a work in progress', but nevertheless interesting.
Another in the City, this time in Ludgate Hill, near to St Paul's: two office buildings by Fletcher Priest and Sauerbruch & Hutton. They are well advanced aand look pretty good. The S&H building sports the usual range of coloured cladding (their trade-mark), but appears to be quite sophisticated.
Two of the best of recent building are from the Dublin firm of O'Donnell & Tuomey: the Photographer's Gallery, near to Oxford Circus, and the London School of Economics Student Union building – an agitated architecture for an agitating student community!
Below: inside the O'Donnell & Tuomey Student Union building at the LSE:
We mentioned London as a city of rich mixes – well, this is a part of that: The Tower, One St George, Battersea. It's not the greatest of architecture (and neither is its neighbour, St George's Wharf, designed by Broadway Malyan), but is is how Londoners now wnat to live. Some of them.
The tower is located on the eastern edge of the Nine Elms district, where the Covent Garden wholesale market is currently located and where the new American embassy (a veritable fortress) is being located, togther with a vast set of new housing projects (which includes Battersea Poer Station).)
And, yes, new bookshops do exist in London. Lifschutz davidson Sandilands have just completed the reinvention of the former Central St Martins building (they moved to Kings cross, into a new stanton Williams building). It's very large and (like Waterstones in Piccadilly, in the famous old Simpsons 1930s building) has a cafe at the top.
London tends to turn its back on a number of homegrown international architects: Chipperfield and Zaha Hadid currently stand out.
David Chipperfiled now has a rather nice new office building at Kings Cross. It's simple, but packs a punch.
Hadid now has four contrasting London designs: a school in Brixton; a restaurant in Kensington Gardens; the Aquatic Stadium in what is now the Queen Elizabeth Park, and the ROCA sanitary fittings shop at Chelsea Harbour.
This is the gallery part of the building(done with Julian Harrap):
Hadid's Aquatics building shows that it was intedned as the show-piece of the Games.
London now has two buildings by the Renzo Piano Workshop: Central St Giles (with its de rigeur roof terraces and attempts to break up the building mass into ostensibly different buildings); and the Shard, which has an upper level visitor gallery).
The Shard is a building viewable from all over London, replacing other recent landmarks such as the Canary Wharf tower. Do we like it? Hmmm...it's controversial.
One of the finest works in London is now ageing and surrounded by new (and not very good) apartment buildings, but is still a terrific experience: Herzog & de Mueron's Trinity Laban Dance School. Access can be arranged (they make a visitor charge for a tour of the building, but it is worth it).
Other notable foreign architects working in London include Herzog & de Meuron, OMA and Jean Nouvel. This is Nouvel's equally controversial work near to St Paul's Cathedral (One New Change):
And this is OMA's bank building for Rothschild's. It is (unlike many City works) a surprisingly well-considered work which strives to relate its modernity to the historical context.
London is changing. By 2018 there will be 9m people in the central parts (we don't know how many will be in the metroplitan area – 14m?. It is becoming more dense. Whereas Londoners once lived in rows of terraced housing that spreads out into metropolitan suburbs, they are now learning to live in apartment blocks sprouting up in every part of the city. Here, for example,is an instance in south London by Panter Hudspith (in Royal Road; photo Morley von Sternberg) :
The scheme (developed by a housing association) is a courtyard block clad (as is currently fashionable throughout London) in brick.
But what is the Londoner's current ideal? A penthouse at the top of a tower near to the River Thames.
This is an example from Rogers Stirk Harbour: (NEO, which is adjacent to the Tate Modern. The practice has a similar scheme in the Nine Elms area that includes Battersea Power Station.
Iif you are interested in an older generation of Modernists working in London they are examples such as the Erno Goldfinger house at 2 Willow Road (owned by the National Trust and publically accessible). Golfinger (yes, of James Bond / Ian Fleming fame) liver around the corner to Fleming and this pre-war design upset the author so much he named a famous fictional villain after the architect and the whole matter ended up with lawyers.But the Goldfinger house is a marvellous example of a young architect (with a wealthy wife) speculating with a mix of the Parisian Modernism he loved and the Georgian terrace that made London so unique (the central two bays are the Goldfinger home).
(There are also some Tecton / Lubetkin buildings to see, as well as a fascinating home in south London by Patrick Gwynne: Homewood, also owned by the National Trust)
One of our favourites is this 1961block by Norman Bailey (Amen Corner):
Below: Homewood, by Patrick Gwynne.(If you want James Bind, it's in the Gwynne 1960s studio part of the house.)
Below: Highpoint, by Tecton with Lubetkin:
(There's quite a lot of Tecton / Lubetkin work in London.)
Art Deco? Depite what we're told, there is actually little of it in London.One of the best examples is the former entrance lobby to the Daily Express building, in Fleet Street (usually open for Open House London, designed by Ellis and Clark, with an interir lobby by Robert Atkinson (1932)). It now has a large banking building behind it, as does the adjavcent fomer Daily Telegraph building (both from the late 1980s):
These works are not new? It's an issue of quality, not vintage ... In fact, one of London's principal attractions is an ability to move from the old to the new, the good to the bad, the beautiful to the ugly, all within a few paces or a short bus or Tube ride. The mix is so rich that you can easily build up your own London. Certainly, this is not so easy in the central tourist areas, but move slightly away from them and a whole new metropolis opens up.
One of the other notable inter-war, Modernist works is the set of flats at Lawn Road (Isokon, by Wells Coates). Early famous residents included: Bauhaus émigrés Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and László Moholy-Nagy; architects Egon Riss and Arthur Korn; Agatha Christie (1940–46) and Adrian Stokes; Jack and Molly Pritchard lived in the penthouse. The communal kitchen was converted into the Isobar restaurant in 1937, to a design by Marcel Breuer. (Wikipedia links). It was more recently restored by Avanti Architects.
More from that period? How about the Simpsons building in Piccadilly (Joseph Emberton, 1936), now a Waterstones book store. (Also see the new Foyles building in Charing Cross, designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands. Both have cafes at the upper level.)
Of course, for those who fail to relate to smoothe parametrics or 'stealth geometries' and have even lost patience with Modernism, there is plenty of an alternative aesthetic , such as the shabby-chic of the Pizza East / Michaelis Boyd restaurants. (There are lots of restaurants and cafes with this character, mostly in off-centre locations where rents are cheaper.)
Try this one, for example: http://thenudge.com/hitlists
AD customises every itinerary. This usually divides our tours into either rearranging what we know of London, or creating something very special.
Many people simply tell us that they simply want to know what is going on. We can do that!
If you want a recurring, standard tour on a set theme, we refer you to our partner organisation, Open-City / Open House London, who offer regular Saturday morning tours and similar events.
And please remember: we're members of a well-established network of professionals who undertake this kind of work. If you have queries about visits to other countries and any tours they do (including outside their home city) please contact us with your inquiry.
Ask us and we can advice you.
Make an enquiry about a visit to London and how AD could assist by emailing us with the following information:
• When you hope to visit London, how many people are expected to be in the group, and what you would like from AD.
Our ideal group size is from 12 - 20p, but we're happy to take more, although we may suggest a low-cost earphone system (so that everyone participates).
• Any specific interests that you have, including making contacts (going to the theatre, football, etc.!).
• A contact name, the name of your firm or practice, and its telephone number.
Mail to either of the following
email@example.com for general costs for guiding and coaches, etc., or to
firstname.lastname@example.org for queries regarding itineraries.
Former client have had lots of good things to say:
"Thanks so much for a lovely tour of London a couple of weeks ago. Everyone from Byens Netværk loved your talk.
We were just talking about your head set with speakers and were wondering where you got yours? I think that speakers like that would come in handy at many of our events in the City Network." Arrangementskoordinator, Byens Netværk.
"My husband and I had the pleasure of having you show us around the contemporary architecture of London [...] It was a wonderful experience." LS, New York City.
"Just a little note to say that it was great to meet both you and Victoria while in London. The walking tour was a perfect way to start the whirl wind London visit and it was such a lovely surprise to see James again! Drinks at the end of the day at the top of the Gherkin was an absolute highlight. Watching one of Richard Rogers pre-fab lift core components being lifted in to place topped it all off! All the very best." MMA, Melbourne
"I just wanted to say a huge thank you for your time while we were in London.
The walking tour was amazing this year Ken. With access to the Barbican, and James showing through the Tea House, what can I say; it gets bigger and better. To top it all off with drinks at the Gherkin, Victoria, thank you so much for arranging our entry." BW, RAIA
"Many thanks for organising the visits yesterday; another very valuable programme for the BBC which led to some terrific discussions." Head of Design, BBC Property.
"After a wonderful weekend in London we would like to thank you and especially many thanks to Ken who did a wonderful guided tour on Sunday." I.G, Museum of contemporary art, Schaffhausen, Switzerland.
"Dear Ken: Happy New Year! And thanks again for the guiding in London in October. It was very inspiring for all of us." HWR, Norway.
"Thank you so much for guiding us through London and the interesting visits! We had a very nice weekend and enjoyed the sun that finally came." Tyrens.se
"I was about to write to you to thank you for the great two days in London. Everybody enjoyed the projects, the guiding, the historical input and all the funny and interesting stories. Our best guiding / study trip ever — thank you so much!" Soddergruppen, Norway
"Thanks again for the great tour last week. We all enjoyed it very much. The editors were very positive." Armstrong
"My warm regards again from Finland and many thanks for your excellent guidance yesterday. We were very satisfied." KIINKO
"Thanks so much for a lovely tour of London a couple of weeks ago. Everyone from Byens Netværk loved your talk." Dansk Arkitektur Center
"I just wanted to thank you the magnificent tour of Tuesday and your comprehension and permission to do the tour longer than fixed and make possible us to see Highpoint and Alexandra Road. I think these two examples were great for the students (and for me also)." School of Architecture, Zaragoza
"Once again thank you very much for the tour [...] We have enjoyed it very much. My colleagues and I were very impressed with the way you could in a simple scheme tell us the history of London." SAB Amsterdam
Architectural Dialogue is a member of the international Guiding-Architects Network, which – from its beginnings in Europe – now has members as far away as Shanghai and Sydney, Australia.
Member cities of the GA network include:
Amsterdam / Rotterdam
Copenhagen / Malmö
Dubai / Abu Dhabi
Graz / Ljubljana
Moscow / St Petersburg
Porto / Lisbon
Ruhr / Düsseldorf
Santiago de Compostela
Zurich / Basel
Guiding-Architects is an informal network of like-minded tour organisations led by architects who live in the cities where tours are held. Many clients make a point of using the G-A Network and members of the Network cooperate in maintaining standards. Click on the image below to be taken to the Guiding-Architects web site. G-A welcomes your feedback on tours taken within the Network. Once at the website you can click on a GA-Feedback link.