Architectural Dialogue began in 1980 as Architectural Tours (founded by Victoria Thornton): architects taking (English) architects abroad. In the early 1990s it altered tack and began to cater for foreigners coming to London who wanted to know more about the city's modern and contemporary architecture.
Since that time we have hosted groups from 2 to 60 (occasionally many more: architects, developers, engineers and other professionals in the field of architecture and urban design.
Our principal guide is Ken Allinson, an architect who has retired from practice in order to write and guide. He is the author of two books on design and project management, and has produed six editions of a Guide to London's Contemporary Architecture (6th ed. to be publshed in late Spring 2014).
Our aim is to talk about architecture as professional to professional – as people who understand architecture in London from the inside. With that in mind we attempt to customise every itinerary to the group we are hosting – whether the interst is simply what is generally happening, or is very specific. Welcome to a dialogue about architecture.
Our fees are time based – basically, a half-day or full-day guide fee plus a handling charge for any extras you incur or ask to include for (transport being the most obvious extra, or arranging special visits, talks, meetings and the like). We make every tour different, depending on where you stay, how many are in the group, how long you are here and, of course, what your interests are. If you have an interest in meeting with other professionals we try our best to use our contacts and arrange this.
Most of the London buildings and features you will be interested in will be central. However, we strive to take you out into areas tourists are less likely to visit. 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.
London is changing. It is increasing in population and 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 aparment 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 fashioanable throughout London) in brick.
The Londoner's current ideal? A penthouse at the top of a tower adjacent to the River Thames.
This is a quite different 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.
If you are interested in what the pundits are looking forward to in 2014 try this Guardian newspaper article by the always-worth-reading, Oliver Wainright
Change is also evident in London's principal historic cores: the City of London (the financial district) and Westminster (the West End). Here, for example, are London's two buildings by the Renzo Piano Workshop: Central St Giles (with its de rigeur roof terraces and attempts to break up the builing mass into ostensibly different buildings); and the Shard, which has an upper level visitor gallery). Other notable foreign architects working in London include Herzog & de Meuron, and Jean Nouvelle.
Another major foreign name with a building in London is Jean Nouvel – with One New Change, in the City. Here, the aimis to combine floor plates that are the size of football pitches with retail content and an accessible roof space.
And this is OMA's bank building for Rothschild's (photo courtesy of OMA). It is not quite on the scale of recent buildings by them in Rotterdam, but is a surprisingly well-considered work which (unlike many City works) strives to relate its modernity to the historical context (a keynote of characterising the challenge of all projects in this historic heartland).
London tends to turn its back on a number of homegrown international architects: Chipperfield and Zaha Hadid currently stand out. However, the latter now has two, very contrasting London buildings: a school in Brixton and a restaurant in Kensington Gardens. Whilst constrained by her budget at Brixton, Hadid has given London a no-holds barred / very expensive work at the Magazine Gallery (part of the Serpentine Gallery). As expected, it divides opinion (especially with those who prefer the Shabby-Chic aesthetic of places such as Pizza East). Lunch or supper there?
This is the gallery part of the building(done with Julian Harrap):
This is the alternative aesthetic (one of the Pizza East / Michaelis Boyd restaurants) for those who fail to relate to smoothe parametrics and the like. It is fascinating to see how this artful kind of 'managed-distress / shabby-chic' aesthetic sets out to counter the blandness of most mainstream design by making a claim to greater authenticity. For a different London there are many web sites that try to keep up with this scene.
Try this one, for example: http://thenudge.com/hitlists
The City of London: the original heartland, now its financial district and yet also London's most architecturally dense and dynamic area. The principal characteristic of the area is its mix of history and modernity. (If you like lunching at the top of tall buildings, try the Gherkin and the Heron Tower.) The fringe areas of the City (for example: along the River Thames; to the west in a land of lawyers; to the east and north-east as areas of ethnicity and trendiness) to are almost as interesting as the City itself.
Come and discover London itself, as well as it's individual works of architecture and its urbanity: patterns within patterns, always varied, always rich in architectural variation.
Enter into a dialogue with the city.
To assist you, we will help you to understand the relations between individual buildings and London as a whole.
For example, London has a simple pattern to its urban topgraphy :
• The City of London: the constantly changing historic core founded by the Romans, with its focus at at Paul's Cathedral – what is now the finacial district. It's not hard to spend all day here.
• Westminster: the govermental and royal district whose focus is another church: St Peter (Westminster Abbey). This – the West End – is an area still dominated by the estate management policies of several property owners whose history goes back to the C18th. Here you will find a mix of government, entertainment and commerce.
• The former Docklands area that has been changing now for forty years. It continues to be an area of development opportunity.
• The River Thames – what was literally and is now more symbolically the life-blood of London. Take a boat trip or simply walk along the riverside for considerable distances.
• The inner ' village' suburbs such as the Angel, Notting Hill, Kensington & Fulham, Clapham, Wandsworth, Hampstead, Highgate, Southwark, etc. This is an area more or less bounded by what is called the Inner Ring Road. This is where the 'real' London comes to the fore in areas continually going through cycles of long-term renovation.
• The outer suburbs that stretch out to the boundary of the M25 highway that encircles London. Frankly, you're unlikely to get out this far, but you could always include a trip to Oxford, Bath and Cambridge (or other such places) on your visit to London. (The transport system is good.)
Westminster: London's other historic core, centred around Westminster Abbey and the site of the Palace of Westminster – now the Houses of Parliament.
Interesting recent buildings in the West End include the Photographers' Gallery, the Dublin practice of O'Donnell+Tuomey photo dennis Gilbert; (they also have a student union building being completed for the London School of economics).
AD makes an effort to customise every itinerary to its clients, whether your interests are general or specific. With our 'premium' service we do our best to get you inside buildings snd to meetings with people like yourselves or those who can tell you what it is you need to know.
We do not run regular standard tours (for that we refer you to our partner organisation, Open-City / Open House London).
If you are thinking of coming to London and would like to consider using AD, please fill in the enquiry form on the right. tell us the basics (when, for how long, group size, etc.), how general or specific interests are, and click on 'Submit.' (or simple email
You may be interested to know that Ken Allinson and Victoria Thornton (founder and Director of Open City / Open House London) have now completed a 6th edition of 'A Guide to London's Contemporary Architecture' (Routledge / Architectural Press). It will available from May 28th 2014. We are also updating our mapguide, which will be subsequently available.
And please remember: we're members of a well-established network of professionals who undertake this kind of business-to-business 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.
Member cities of the GA network:
Amsterdam / Rotterdam
Copenhagen / Malmö
Dubai / Abu Dhabi
Graz / Ljubljana
Moscow / St Petersburg
Porto / Lisbon
Ruhr / Düsseldorf
If you would like to enquiry about a visit to London and how AD could assist, please send an email with the following informatin:
• a contact name, the name of your firm or practice, and its telephone number.
• when you plan 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.!).
Mail to either of the following
firstname.lastname@example.org for general costs for guiding and coaches, etc. (which basically means how much work do you want us to do).
or email@example.com for queries regarding itineraries. We can't get you everywhere, but we try and have an amazing success rate.
There is never enough time when visiting London, so we always try to tailor an itinerary who who you are, where you are staying and what interests you have. In any case, standard tours are boring – both for us and for you.
However, your guide is an experienced architect – registered with the Architects Registration Board, a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a long-term resident of central London – with lots of experience.
Once you make an email contact we shall enter into a dialogue with you and establish a framwork itinerary and costs for the visit.
Tours are typically as follows:
• by time, half-day or full-day.
• visiting one particular area or having a limited set of visits. This would be necessary for a half-day tour, so we would look to keep within a specific area or theme e.g. the City of London, the West End, or housing in southern London.
• full-day and longer tours give us a lot more choice on where to take you and what buildings you can see.
• we think of our themes as 'cross-sectional', i.e., a cross-section through the City, the West End, London as a whole, by building type, architect, etc. We 'mix and match' – which fits with the general character of London.
You decide. Ask us to show you what is interesting in the time available, or make specirifc requests. We can then advise you.
Whatever, you do, we'll suggest that we throw in entertaining aspects of being in London: fast river boats, getting up tall buildings such as the Eye or the Shard, using the cable car, etc. And, of course, there has to be coffee stops and lunch and supper and whatever else appeals to you.
By the way, we like all to have people from all sectors of the construction industry. Here is an example of a visit we organised for a swedish firm of engineers to another engineering practice (we have done this for other structural engineers, traffic engineers, services engineers, restoration experts, urban designers, landscape architects, etc.)If we don't have the expertise, we try and get it for you.
Former client comments:
"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
The 6th Edition of London's Contemporary Architecture (An Explorer's Guide) will be out on May 28th. This edition is with a new publisher (Routledge) and is much improved. 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."
Below: dRMM's Arthouse project at Kings Cross.
So what is new in London since the last (the 5th) 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 are surging ahead.
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 ten 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.
Interestingly, the metropolis now has works from a number of foreign architects: Herzog & de Meuron are now doing their third; Renzo Piano Workshop has two; Jean Nouvel has one; Rafael Vinoly has one (to supplement his new Maths building in Oxford). Meanwhile the Americans who arrived in the mid-1980s are still here: SOM, KPF, Swanke Hayden, for example. Local offices such as Allies & Morrison, and AHMM are about 300 strong.
The Spring in London burst upon us at AD with tours for an ad agency from Stravanger who wnated to see housing, were shown some dRMM works and then confessed their client was the developer for dRMM work in Norway. We had 40 architects from an architectural firm in Oslo and an interesting group of 14 estate managers from 14 different Dutch universities who 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!). Despite the problems of getting into the hugely popular new student Union building at the London School of Economics (by O'Donnell & Tuomey), we managed to receive a talk in there from the local Director of Estates.
Below: Dutch university Estate managers at a very large student accommodation building at Stratford, and at a supper at The Modern Pantry.
Below: inside the O'Donnell & Tuomey Student Union building.