Urbanisation in London – An Interview with INTBAU’s Harriet Wennberg.

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We spoke to the INTBAU’s Harriet Wennberg about their upcoming conference on urbanisation and sustainability in London.

This month the INTBAU will be holding their World Congress, discussing the effects of rapid urbanisation in cities. We spoke to the INTBAU’s Harriet Wennberg about the conference, urbanisation and sustainability in London and why people should engage with architecture.

London is one of the largest cities in Europe and continues to expand rapidly. With over 55% of the population living in urban environments, the demand upon our cities is growing exponentially, and it is the role of architects and experts to consider how rapid urbanisation will affect our cities and how we can find sustainable solutions for this growth. The INTBAU (International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism) World Congress hopes to answer these questions, bringing together some of the world’s experts to explore the impact of rapid urbanisation on heritage, identity and shelter. We spoke to Senior Manager of the INTBAU Harriet Wennberg about the conference, the effects of urbanisation on London and why people should engage with architecture.

London Calling: Could you tell us about the World Congress and what it hopes to achieve?

Harriet Wennberg: This is the second of a similar type of event run by INTBAU in February last year. We use our convening power as an international charity to focus on the built environment, bringing interesting speakers and thinkers together from all walks of life and around the world. The theme of this year is city space, and we will be focusing on rapid urbanisation and how this will continue to impact heritage and specifically the theme of shelter, the most urgent and essential form of architecture there is. There will be speakers from all over the world, including a Maori design expert from New Zealand, a speaker from Indonesia and an expert in informal settlements from Pakistan. It’s a debate of global importance about how our cities will look in the future and how we can make them the best possible places for people to live.

LC: The congress will focus on encouraging city growth in a positive and sustainable way. How can we achieve this and how could our cities improve?

HW: INTBAU has quite a unique and important perspective, we as a network promote traditions developed locally. We believe that this way of building and designing cities is better adapted to local climates and topography, with materials that can be sourced locally, that are cheap to make and easy to maintain. We’d like to encourage people to look at solutions that are already staring us in the face, and although there’s no single quick fix for the future, some answers could come from what we already know.

LC: You’ve chosen to hold the World Congress in London, how do you think the concerns about rapid urbanisation and sustainability are particularly relevant to this city?

HW: London is already very big and it will be interesting to see if the population grows at the rate forecast. We do need to come up with better ways of building housing, and also consider how our city can accommodate and welcome people seeking a better life, such as those affected by conflicts in Syria and migration. These themes really need more discussion so that we can foster connections and come up with more answers.

LC: London is always rapidly changing, but after Brexit it is likely that we will experience an even more significant change. How do you think this will impact the future of our city?

HW: I think it may affect the city’s openness to others, and the question of if we are going to lose people from European countries who could be denied a place. How do we keep London as a growing and exciting city that is welcoming, that leads the way for city growth whilst also maintaining its identity? We need to consider how we can create a place that is still hugely attractive to live in.

LC: It is always quite easy to take your architecture and your surroundings for granted. Why should people try and learn more and architecture and urbanisation?

HW: Architecture is the most public art form there is. Even if we don’t live or work inside a building, we engage with it everyday if we walk past it. A building gives you a sense of place and offers something to the street and creates places that people enjoy being in. There are so many scientific and psychological studies that consider if architecture makes us happier and healthier and all signs point to the fact that yes, it does. It’s important for people to occupy a place that offers a sense of identity, that gives them a sense of where they are, respects pedestrians and offers something for people to look at.

LC: What do you hope that visitors to the congress will take away from it?

HW: I hope that they will start thinking about these questions really. The theme was chosen as a follow up to a UN conference that took place in Ecuador called Habitat 3, which looked at settlements and ratified a new urban agenda, going into forensic detail about how cities should grow. But a microscopic percentage actually go to or have even heard of these events. The purpose of our conference is to engage people with discussions happening at high levels that might not be instantly accessible, because these discussions and opinions should really be coming from people who experience the city every day.

The INTBAU World Congress will run from the 14th-15th November at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Tickets for the weekend are between £145-£200 and can be found here.

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