Steen Eiler Rasmussen (a Danish architect-planner) described the London he knew it in the 1930s as a ‘unique city’. He loved the fact, unlike the big cities of continental Europe, that almost every house had a private garden. And he loved its parks. The parks survive but London’s distinctive ‘garden city’ character is being destroyed:
- far more apartments than houses-with-gardens are being built
- when apartment blocks do have associated open space it is often badly planned, badly designed and unused.
- the gardens of newly built houses tend to be small and sunless with little privacy and no views of the wider world.
Rasmussen observed the start of this trend and concluded the second edition of his book, in 1960, with the prophetic observation that: ‘Thus the foolish mistakes of other countries are imported everywhere, and at the end of a few years all cities will be equally ugly and equally devoid of individuality. This is the bitter END’
Assuming London’s destiny is to become a city of apartments, what can be done? First of all, they need to take inspiration from successful modern apartment blocks, like those from Atlas (https://www.atlasoakland.com/). But it’s not quite as simple as that. The following things also need to be ensured:
- landscape architects should be involved (1) in the early stages of planning housing developments (2) in the detailed design of their open spaces would result in significant improvements
- most new apartment blocks should have roof gardens and green balconies
- the space around apartment blocks should be much better designed with regard to both functional and aesthetic objectives