The London Festival of Architecture, which kicked off in 2004, is Europe’s biggest annual architecture festival. It lasts a month, and that month is June, so now is the ideal time to explore some of this year's 400 events and installations. I struggled through the atomised listings on the website to discover what was taking place on the first day, picked ten that sounded interesting, and set out to track them down. Spoiler: the majority were either missing, closed or disappointing, but at least the last one was good.
Here's a cracking idea. On an emerging housing estate at the far end of the Royal Docks, Sara has erected a wooden ornithological shelter complete with binoculars and large west-facing window. But it's not for watching birds, oh no, it's for watching planes. The end of City Airport's runway is less than 500m away, so you can either watch the beasts taking off, or await the wheels-down roar as one suddenly appears almost directly overhead. An illustrated poster inside the hut lists all the aircraft you might see, to aid identification, but doesn't warn of the noise. Sara's underlying message appears to be "Only an idiot would buy a flat here." Unfortunately the Bird Hide was locked. The website did warn that it might be on a weekday, in which case I should "visit RAW Labs (across the bridge) for more information", but that was closed too. The arse end of Gallions Reach is a long way to yomp for a padlocked box.
Dynamic City: Reflections in Canary Wharf – Paintings by Debbie Ayles Crossrail Place [June 1 - 30]
Debbie makes colourful deconstructed artworks of cityscapes, all office block panes and towering facades. In amidst are hints of office workers, clouds and buses, but mostly this is about hundreds of spangly geometric windows. Her giant hoardings are looking good across the flowerbeds in the garden atop Crossrail Place. The lunchtime gym class taking place alongside made appreciation a bit tricky, but eventually they picked up their towels, switched off the Prodigy and sweated back to their desks.
LONDON 1840 Greenwich Visitor Centre [June 1 - 30]
An amazing model of early Victorian London, at 1:1500 scale, is being gradually assembled, block by block. If you ever get a chance to see it, do. I looked round the Greenwich Visitor Centre for the Greenwich section of the London 1840 scale model but I couldn't spot it. I asked at the desk about the London 1840 scale model, but nobody there knew where it was either. I showed them the listing for the London 1840 scale model on my phone, but they said they'd never heard of it. One of them suggested it might be at the National Maritime Museum, and apologised if it wasn't, which it wasn't. Total fail.
"Custard cream, digestive, shortbread or bourbon - How do your biscuit preferences represent your identity and what type of biscuit would you reinvent yourself as? Join us as we explore the theme of identity around a place by looking further into the name of our studio home 'The Biscuit Factory'." Well that sounded interesting. Totally wasn't. First of all I went to the Biscuit Factory, a clump of offices and workshops where Peak Frean used to make Bourbons, and fought my way through the lunchtime gymgoers streaming across the car park. But it wasn't in their cafe, it was in another cafe round the corner. I looked round the walls at the art, but failed to find anything biscuit related. There was an information board, and a man packing away a children's workshop, and a very long queue for pizza, but absolutely nothing worth trekking all this way for.
The LFA blurb describes the Treehouse thus: "It is a place of contrasts, a space in which to explore, to play, or simply take a moment to reflect. The Treehouse is a pavilion for everyone to experience architecture, and offers a new perspective on the individual, city and identity." Nah. This a shiny black wall with two entrances, plus a few cubic blocks scattered around outside. It's made from trees rather than stuck up in one. Walking inside I did feel like I was entering a urinal, but no, the interior is completely empty. Still, the shiny exterior is ideal for selfies, if that's what you like. It felt very much at home in the shallow glossy exterior of Battersea Power Station.
This is a leftover from 2016, several clumps of blue and yellow pipes hanging down to create a sort of shelter, and plonked outside the art gallery in Battersea Park. It was put together by some architects, some structural engineers and a local secondary school, which is why it looks like it does. Normally there's nothing under it, but I turned up during an FLA mapwork workshop, so there were some maps laid out on the spools underneath, and some organisers waiting patiently in case any children turned up, which they didn't. So I went inside the art gallery instead, where the latest four-storey exhibition is about flirting and sex, which filled a few minutes, but not enough to have made the trip worthwhile.
Every year the LFA has a pop-up pavilion, and this year's is in Old Laundry Yard, which if you're not familiar is a new street food market just off Shepherds Bush Market. Think loaded skin-on fries, Venezuelan fusion cuisine and a curated cocktail fix. The pavilion is an elevated illuminated box, draped with vibrant abstract colours, and will provide a focus for various cultural events. When I walked into an empty Old Laundry Yard, all the stallholders looked up from their phones and stared at me, hoping desperately that I might justify their existence by buying some food. When it became obvious I was simply wandering round looking for an elevated illuminated box, they went back to their phones with a glum expression of resigned desperation. If you're an Apprentice contestant this year, and Lord Sugar suggests Old Laundry Yard as a possible pitch for a streetfood task, I strongly recommend picking absolutely anywhere else. Also, there isn't currently an elevated illuminated box, nor any pop-up pavilion of any kind. Stay away.
Golly, it's all pavilions, innit? But this was my favourite, a collaboration between a collective of professional engineers and a group of GCSE students from across London. They spent two days designing a structure to fit under the trees outside the church, then another two days fitting all the labelled timber pieces together, and weaving a web of coloured threads above, and planting flowers round the rim. Some lucky playground in Canada Water is going to end up with this after the festival has finished. The pavilion appears to have been designed for lying down, rather than sitting, which may be why the rest of the churchyard was quite busy with adults relaxing in the sun, but the pavilion stood ignored and empty.
G-tainer Installation Royal Exchange [June 1 - 30]
This one's across the road from the Bank of England, behind the Royal Exchange. It's a "smart glass" screen designed to display digital content, across a product the manufacturers like to call a "media facade". According to the LFA listing, "This temporary installation will provide a focus point and will enable stakeholders to use both the internal space and display promotional, artistic and engaging content to draw interest and communicate with those viewing externally." Codswallop. Nobody has erected a glass screen behind the Royal Exchange. It seems the LFA listings are full of unchecked promises, not necessarily delivered, hence not to be trusted.
Skip Gallery x Richard Woods: UPGRADE Hoxton Square [June 1 - 30]
The Skip Gallery is an 8-yard rubbish skip, painted blue, into which curators Catherine Borowski and Lee Baker place temporary artistic interventions. That is genius. This month it contains one of Richard Woods' model bungalows, last seen at the Folkestone Triennial floating in the harbour. They looked striking there, and they look striking here, in a parking space opposite a pizzeria in the hipsterest heart of Hoxton. They've had to ruin it by claiming that "the house acquires further meaning by being framed by the walls of the skip in which it sits – perhaps representing the elements of a home that are discarded or abandoned in the process of renovation". But if you can ignore that, and just come to admire, I can guarantee Instagram likes.
What I should have done was carry on into the evening to enjoy the Friday night Open Studios event, which this week was taking place across Clerkenwell, but it sounded a bit social, and I probably wasn't hip enough, but mainly I was too tired after traipsing round looking for things that weren't there. Maybe some of them will appear before the month ends.