Feature:Change those questions of The Week

Helena Riviera

So we're halfway through London Architecture Week (or is it Bienale?) (I believe its both, but for the sake of simplicity I'll refer to it as The Week) and you've scrolled through the websites, shifted through the leaflets and wondered what exactly to do. So have I. The problem is, although the schedule (www.architectureweek.org.uk/findevents.asp) is packed with would-be-interesting debates, lectures, visits, workshops, launches, and exhibitions it also happens to be heavily priced. Yes, I always thought it would be nice to see the Barbican flats but not at a cover charge of £15. So my first question about The Week is, 'why the hell do I have to fork out so much cash to celebrate London's Architecture?' I think I'll leave this in mid air, because as far as most London events go, that tends to be a reoccurring first question.

So what exactly is The Week about? Surely an Architecture Biennale - be it in London, or elsewhere - should celebrate the democracy of our cities. And I don't mean democracy from a political viewpoint, but rather from the notion of accessibility. Architecture is so much more than the nuts and bolts of a building - it is about public space, sustainability, historical context, future visions and most importantly - and usually least discussed - the users, the citizens. Us. (this is why I refuse to pay). Can a building affect our health? What changes did a façade, square, foyer or street initiate? How was our city used before, how is it used today and how will we use it tomorrow? These are only a few of the questions The Week should trigger off*.

And I've got to let you in on what feels like a huge secret about The Week. There are some walks available as podcasts (www.architectureweek.org.uk/podwalk.asp) that you can download and follow at your own leisure. The reason these walks are such a fabulous addition to The Week, is that they have actually covered some pretty important areas of 'change' in London ie; those undergoing regeneration -namely Thames Gateway, Elephant & Castle, Stratford - and two walks representative of areas that have undergone substantial change in the past - South bank and The City. In the case of 'Buildings in The City of London', Richard Rogers Partnership has prepared a compilation of speakers that take you in and out, over and under the area with a well-balanced set of technical information, master-planning anecdotes and design innuendos set within the historical framework of this area, otherwise known as London's financial district. Michele Noach's walk, on the other hand, is a more personal and poetic journey through a very central area in London. This one may be especially challenging, as it takes us through a very recognizable area which many of us may have stopped questioning. Anyway these walks seem to embody what The Week should be about and their curation is coherent with this years theme of Change - an appropriate theme for London 2006 and a crucial subject matter for cosmopolitan cities world-wide.

*Questions are good;
How do we perceive the buildings that we see every day?
Does anyone care?
How do I measure quality the of architecture?
Does anyone know what a mixed-use scheme really is?
Can any event in Britain really be taken seriously when its them is 'Change'? (I acknowledge that only foreigners will get this)
How do environmental factors dictate a design?
What is Social wellbeing anyway?
Do architects really consider ecological sustainability or is it a buzz word?
How many non-architects have booked an event during The Week?
Shouldn't London have its bike week during winter?
How can we avoid regeneration simply being about gentrification?