London Debate 4, 2007

Curated on behalf of The Architecture Foundation

London Debates 2007 (debate 4), Tate Modern © photo: Tomas Zadanius

Debate 4: How Can London Be Both Big and Beautiful?


The scale of rebuilding in London allows us to redefine our idea of what a good city should be. Which is more desirable: to be more like Copenhagen, with high-quality public spaces, pedestrianisation, and an orderly and civilised public life? To be more like Dubai, a city of extremes and excess, where the appetites of consumer culture find unfettered expression in architecture? To return to Victorian values in city-making, with beneficial public institutions in dignified buildings?

Should we accept and celebrate the messy vitality of the city as it is now and as it is becoming? Or should there be public investment and intervention to achieve a more harmonious public realm? Should projects like the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square become more widespread? Or would it just create more traffic jams?

And how can improvements be achieved without the regulation and public spending that could suppress London’s vitality?

This event was part of Debate London, a series of public events curated by The Architecture Foundation and hosted by Tate Modern in London. It was supported by Derwent London. 

London Debates 2007 (debate 4 panel), Tate Modern © photo: Tomas Zadanius


Paul Finch, editor, Architectural Review (chair)
Ricky Burdett, curator, Tate Modern’s Global Cities exhibition; creative director, 10th Venice Architecture Biennale (2006); professor, London School of Economics
Shumon Basar, writer, curator, editor and lecturer on culture and architecture
Tristram Hunt, historian, broadcaster, author
Ben Page, chairman, Ipsos Mori (introduction)
Richard Rogers, architect, RSH+P; chief advisor to Mayor of London
Michael Snyder, accountant; chair, City of London’s Policy and Resources Committee


Sarah Gaventa, director, CABE Space
Edwin Heathcote, architecture and design critic, The Financial Times
Piers Gough, broadcaster, architect and commissioner, English Heritage
Sean Griffiths, visiting professor, Yale University; architect, FAT

The Architecture Foundation, Debate London 2007 (debate 4, Richard Rogers in green), Tate Modern © photo: Tomas Zadanius

Event Summary

“Argumentative and stimulating, the central theme on whether London could be both big and beautiful, focused on new development and the city’s growing population. Richard Rogers was first to take the mike, offering his first of many optimistic lines throughout the evening. “London has never been better during my lifetime”, he said, going on to describe the many successes of the new government under Ken Livingstone – a government he did acknowledge his own involvement in. He concluded by indicating that the future of the city rests largely in the Thames Gateway, which promises a host of new opportunities if approached correctly. Tristram Hunt described the parallels in London’s growth now and its growth during Victorian times – a similarity that begs comparison and lesson-learning now”. “The Victorians were good at buildings things, and building them quickly”, he argued. “They built a lot of housing and a lot of density”. Shumon Basar took the stage and turned the discussion away from pragmatic concerns and towards understanding the semantics of ‘big’ and ‘beautiful’. “Might London suffer from wanting it all?”. The audience members seemed to take the discussion in multiple directions. Emerging from the evening, themes such as new developments, responsible architecture and political accountability emerged as the leading topics of interest.”

– Kieran Long, editor of project website

Audience Feedback

“Cool debate. Please do it again, but make it even more controversial. Ask people with more to lose, win and complain about. Have the political list and respond, not only headline”. – anonymous

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London Debates 2007 (Turbine Hall), Tate Modern © photo: Tomas Zadanius