Looking back at 350 years of architecture since the Great Fire, our columnist says medieval streets can inspire exciting plans for public spaces.
The Livery companies of the City of London reflect much of what is so fascinating about the Square Mile – a complex mix of ancient and modern, a medieval street pattern that hosts the world’s financial capital, a system of governance that goes back 800 years yet promotes 21st century business.
For the next 12 months I shall be Master of the Architects’ Company and as part of my programme for the year we will be focusing on the role of architects in ‘Rebuilding London’, to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of 1666. We will be looking at Christopher Wren’s grand renaissance plan for the City, which was rejected by the merchants because they wanted to get back to business straight away rather than waiting a decade or so for a new masterplan. We’ll talk about the impact the Fire had on construction in London, on improved building regulations and the creation of the first official building surveyor who ensured new buildings were soundly constructed – a post emulated around the world.
Reconstruction after the blitz will be another of our topics and the impact it had on the economy and growth of London; the effect of the IRA bombs is also of interest – that led to the ring of steel, a security cordon that remains to this day. This meant a reduction in cars in the City, in levels of pollution and new thinking about public space. The retention of many of the medieval streets, the tight grain of the area, means that it is ideal for walking and cycling rather than vehicles. The City Corporation has exciting plans for improving the quality of a number of key public spaces of which the most exciting is the deadly junction at Bank. Watch this space, as they say.
Peter Murray is Chairman of NLA: London’s Centre for the Built Environment