White City Wonderings

Place West London 2012 is London’s foremost event looking at the economic development and regeneration future of West London. The event took place at London’s Olympia Conference Centre on 23rd October 2012. Delegates comprised of developers, investors and representatives from enterprise, local and central government, all intent on shaping key policies for the future of West London’s people, places and infrastructure. Given the Government’s recent unveiling of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill it is important to understand what this all means for West London?

Liane chaired a session at Place West which focussed on White City. Westfield are extending their presence in White City and of course the BBC are moving to Salford. The Dairy Crest site and Imperial Wharf are also hives of activity. But how are these plans going to contribute to a genuine and coherent sense of place?  How are the community engaged in the process?

Joining her on the panel were Eric Parry, founder of Eric Parry Architects and Duncan Bower, Development Director at Westfield. Duncan gave a very whistle-stop but nonetheless rich overview of the history and context of the site. From a woodland to the site of the Anglo-French Exhibition of 1908 featuring sparkling white buildings which lent the area its name, to one of London’s most prestigious mixed use sites; the area has seen it all. Eric took us through a series of compelling visuals depicting the possible futures of White City’s “Bricklands” development, describing them as experiences and the sort of social settings that had formed the basis of the designs.

Liane was intrigued by one particular image of the gymkhana that exists beneath the Westway; an unexpected yet brilliant use of space, and wondered how that sense of informal and unexpectedness can be retained in a development of such scale and profile. Is there a danger of that being lost? She also asked each panellist to give there take on what makes the project truly transformational for the local community.

From the responses it is clear that much fine grained work has gone into the plans to ensure that it’s not just a bricks and mortar project that’s delivered but a real place built on real social interactions. But of course you can’t force this; it has to grow of its own accord. So the litmus test will come in time when we see if the place can truly attract and retain the type of idiosyncratic bubbling of the weird and unexpected that can’t be planned or foreseen  – but what makes it so special.

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