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Addressing pressing architectural and urban issues, the LSA’s Design Think Tanks kick off their collaborations this January, and will present their findings on the following five themes in the summer:


Global Currents – De-polluting Architecture: Designing for the Right to Breathe

Air pollution hangs in the air lowering visibility in London in 2014

The ‘right to breathe’ – the universal access to clean and fresh air– is increasingly becoming less a right and more a luxury in metropolitan areas worldwide. In dense urban environments, air pollution is rapidly undermining our health and lifestyle. Over 60 per cent of the world’s population breathes contaminated air with an average decrease of the life expectancy of one-and-a-half years. In the UK this average is slightly lower – 13 months – but recent studies show that in areas like South Central London air pollution is the fifth largest contributor to premature death. The UK also has the second highest number of deaths from NO2 pollution in Europe.

Global Currents asks: how can architecture actively contribute to fight air pollution and even be a game changer? How can we design changes in our urban environment or our lifestyle to reduce the problem? What else needs to support design to be an effective driver in this battle? How can we design buildings and cities that are proactive in the solution rather than a significant contributor in the problem?

We aim to explore the potential contribution of architecture to fight air pollution in metropolitan areas. Our focus will be the relationship between architecture and air pollution, and not pollution of any other kind. Analysing a specific area in London, we want to implement realistic design solutions which improve its air quality and with applicability elsewhere. Ultimately, the ambition is also political: trying to involve architects and designers in the battle for the right to breathe.


Leaders Javier Quintana (IDOM) and Steven Kennedy (Grimshaw) Architects with the assistance of Maxine Pringle (aLL Design) Practices Project Leader Nicholas de Klerk (Aukett Swanke) Students Jaahid Ahmad, Elisabeth Day, Jacob Dix, Yasmin Lokat, Abigail Portus, Sarah Sheenan Practices All Design (Maxine Pringle), Aukett Swanke (Nicholas de Klerk), Carl Turner Architects (Sara Khabazan), Cullinam Studio (Carol Costello), Jestico+Whiles (Rhys Jones), Scott Whitby Studio (Alex Scott Whitby), 5th Studio (Mike Taylor), IDOM (Mikel Lotina), Waugh Thistleton (tbc), Marko & Placemakers (Petra Marko)


Architectural Agency – Real Estates: a new commerciality

Bürolandschaft was a 1950s movement in open plan office space planning

Developers are key to the design of architecture and cities. And without profit drivers, there would be very little building activity. Office developments in our cities are largely in the hands of investors and developers. The financial models behind these investments respond to parameters that sit outside the remit of a common architectural commission.

Architects are regularly slammed for being ‘non-commercial’. In the RIBA’s 2016 client survey, What Clients Think of Architects, a condemning figure suggested that 31 per cent of contractors are dissatisfied in working with architects on projects – the main reason is due to the lack of ‘commercial understanding’.

Architectural Agency will establish a deep understanding of the financing mechanisms and parameters of commercial architecture. Through this, we will interrogate and test the spatial economics of commercial architecture to discover room to play, re-invent and re-imagine, and establish a broader value definition from the financial, social and environmental point of view. Can we unlock new commercial architectures by enhancing our understanding of ‘commerciality’?


Leaders Max Rengifo (Astudio), David Johnson (Haworth Tompkins), Rae Whittow Williams (PDP) Students Hari Tank, Lisa McDanell, Christian Georcelin, Robin Chatwin, Katrina Duncan, Calin Barbu Practices Astudio, Buckley Gray Yeoman, Haworth Tompkins, Lipton Plant, Mikhail Riches, PDP London, IF_DO

Adaptive Typology – What is the role of the Metropolitan High Street in the Digital Age?

Leyton High Road will be the area of investigation

London’s high streets are broken. Globalisation has divorced the metropolitan high street from the communities and networks they once served. Most of the retail property on our high streets is developed on behalf of large, institutional investors with control coming from the boardrooms of distant corporations instead of being nurtured in the hands of local communities.

Adaptive Typologies aims to question the ecology of the local retail stock by engaging, empowering and guiding the civic economy – the ideas, resources, passions and expertise of the people. How can a focus on human interaction and new technologies, rather than a retail monoculture, create a relevant urban future? Can architects ensure the wider public understand the importance of placemaking and the role of the architect as civic entrepeneur in this process?

Adaptive Typologies will interrogate the conditions of Leyton High Street where the profound effects of globalisation and the rise of convenience culture can be traced all along the face of its buildings. We will have access to a retail unit along the high street, where we can intertwine ourselves with Leyton’s locals and speculate spatial manifestations that are embedded in the local needs.

Community is not being destroyed, it is changing. As our world becomes more virtual, intimate personal contact and artistic expression will be what we treasure. It is the hallmark of humanity and the high street is at its heart.


Leaders Rachel Carmody and Andrew McEwan (Orms) Students Alex Bell, Ben Breheny, James Hignett, Franceseca Merton, Claire Seager,Tommaso Sordon Practices Orms, Allies & Morrison, Alma-Nac, AOC , Citizens Design Buro, Carmody Groake, HOK, One-Works, Robin Partington & Partners, Red Deer, Soda

New Knowledge – Redesigning Death

Etienne-Louis Boullée exploring the primal forms of death

Death is at a moment of crisis. Our treatment of the dead is fast becoming unsustainable: burial is economically impractical; cremation, unecological and culturally uprooted. We’ve lost the relative certainty of collective rituals that traditionally helped us make sense of death. In London we no longer have enough space to bury our dead: there is less than five years of capacity left in the city’s cemeteries and available plots now cost in excess of £5,000. At the same time, a single cremation uses 300kWh of energy (more than the average person uses in a whole month).

A basic funeral now costs on average in excess of £3,500. As the costs of burial continue to rise, 75 per cent of people in the UK are now cremated. The beliefs and culture surrounding death are increasingly secular but our funerary rituals have yet to respond. Our experience in the aftermath of a death is one of dreary funerals in soulless crematoria hidden within the automotive outskirts of a town. Occasions that should be personally and collectively significant, play a part in our catharsis and enable us to grieve, are all too often robbed of any poetry and poignancy. A typical crematorium funeral lasts just 20 minutes, one party exiting the building whilst the next enters.

Our treatment of the dying is similarly aberrant. Where once it would have occurred in the home surrounded by relatives we now die alone in hospital. Death has become medicalised, no longer a cultural act but a failing of medicine to be put of at any cost. An aging population combined with advances in medicine means we now have more say in the manner and timing of our death then ever before, but culturally we have yet to respond. 74 per cent of people want to die at home but only 18 per cent of people get to.

Once seen as an intrinsic part of day-to-day life, death has now become invisible. As the rituals of death have dispersed, our common understanding of death has been lost. We urgently need to rethink our attitudes to death, dying and grief. We must reintegrate the dead into the life of our cities. Now is the moment to reconsider the design of death.


Leaders Anthony Engi Meacock and Giles Smith (Assemble) Students Alice Moxley, Charlotte Magwick, Hannah Bowers, Matthieu Courtade, Oliver Chambers, Simon Spafford Practices AHMM, Assemble, Citizens Design Bureau, EVA Studio, Daykin Marshall, John Tompson Architects, RHS+P, Studio Octopi, Tate Harmer

Metabolic City – The Civic Capital of Cultural Infrastructure

Museums are expanding all over the world – but whom do they serve?

Urban infrastructures – ranging from transport to public health, policing to education – underscore a city’s ability to thrive. Cultural infrastructure in particular has long been predicated on the civic preconception that it would bring ‘the best for the most’; allowing the wider public access to our shared cultural heritage and identity. However, as the public and the private in our cities increasingly blur, this assumption deserves further scrutiny.

As London, New York and other metropolises state their intention to create Cultural Infrastructure Plans – using planning and spatial policies to support the arts and maintain their status as global artistic and economic capitals – Metabolic City asks how design, intentionally or not, supports the power structures behind our cultural and public spaces.

Boundaries are shifting between forms of art, the nature of their production and the way in which they are made accessible. Focusing on contemporary visual arts and the virtual as well as physical infrastructures that allow artworks to be experienced, exhibited, traded, stored, and even used as tools for urban change, we will ask how architecture can harness the civic ambition of collective culture, when set against the rise of privatised culture and reduced public funding.

What are the urban consequences of the ongoing commodification of culture? Can we design spatial counter-proposals to the current drift towards the private and the hidden and ask what will be the common cultural and public spaces of the future?


Leaders Deborah Saunt, Roberta Marcaccio, Alistair Blake (DSDHA) Students Louie Austen, Charlotte Hurley, Molly Judge, Lloyd Martin, Sheenwar Siti Practices DSDHA, NBBJ, Scott Brownrigg, Simpson Studio, Coffey Architects, Grimshaw, Alan Baxter, Duggan Morris, Studio Egret West