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Designs for sustainable cultural districts

Future Cities Forum gathered speakers at Wellcome Trust's HQ in London last week, to debate how we can best develop and integrate cultural infrastructure within cities - touching on districts as diverse as Borough Yards in Southwark, Stratford in East London, Farringdon and West Kensington.

Pam Alexander, who is both a board director of the London Legacy Development Corporation and a Mayor of London's Cultural Ambassador, stressed the importance of stitching the new into the old:

'There is no point in landing an alien 'spacecraft' gallery in a district which has no connection with it or no say in how it will be used.

'On the East Bank at Stratford, Allies and Morrison has master-planned part of the Olympic site for major new buildings for Sadler's Wells, the V&A, the BBC and the University of the Arts London. There are 250 artists in Hackney Wick nearby, there is the Theatre Royal Stratford, and East London Dance. The area is hugely diverse but historically deeply deprived, and the opportunity is to bring in excellence.

'This is terrifically important, and it echoes the work done by the Turner Margate working with the community in the years running up to the construction of the gallery in the seaside town.'

The Wellcome Trust's Director of Culture & Society, Simon Chaplin responded:

'Pam makes a very good point about inclusion, but the act of putting new and large cultural institutions out-of-context into a neighbourhood - like the V&A at Stratford - is a risk. Emotional engagement is at the heart of streets and vibrant communities and cultural institutions can play a part but only if they are integrated skilfully and authentically.'

On the importance of avoiding the habit of thinking about buildings in isolation, Tateo Nakajima, Arup Fellow and Principal Arts, Culture and Entertainment stated:

'There is a temptation for people to think about cultural buildings as assets rather than as being part of an ecosystem. It's a human ecosystem and audiences need to think that there are in a place that is authentic, which is about fabric and people. The problem with gentrification is the implied uniformity of economic exclusion so you have to curate the dynamic more carefully and that may be in the gift of developers.'

Sir Simon Jenkins told us how historic buildings can often help lead peoples' imaginations to explore new museums:

'In any city in the world the old bits are popular, but the new bits tend not to be. Cathedrals, castles are very popular but modern churches are not. Streets are what people want. If you want to draw people in to a museum or whatever you start with what you have got. I have been involved in the choosing of a location and design for the new Museum of London - the key there is not to destroy Smithfield Market. It is the historic buildings of Smithfield Market that will draw people to the new Museum of London, and not the other way round. The focus on streetscape and regenerating old building and materials is very important. It certainly attracts people who work in the creative industries'.

SPPARC Architecture has been working across the old Vinopolis site in Southwark to create a new district - Borough Yards. Principal Trevor Morriss was asked whether the past and historic fabric is enough in itself, and why there is a need for the new:

'We are expected as modern architects to create structures of glass and steel with a context. Borough market has great context and heritage but some of that has been lost. The area really resonates with Londoners, but we needed to look back in time to the old medieval street structure and to open up the Victorian rail infrastructure of bridges and arches. So we cut lanes through the site in order to reinstate the old street patterns. As Simon said people still want attractive streets and places to gather.'

Read our full report to be published shortly.

CGI of Stoney Street by SPPARC - part of Borough Yards development in Southwark, London

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