London's new City Hall on the south bank of the Thames



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City Mayors ranks the world’s largest, best as well as richest cities and urban areas. It also ranks the cities in individual countries, and provides a list of the capital cities of some 200 sovereign countries. More


City Mayors profiles city leaders from around the world. More


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City Mayors deals with economic and investment issues affecting towns and cities. More


City Mayors describes and explains financial issues affecting local government. More


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City Mayors reports on developments in urban society and behaviour and reviews relevant research. More


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City Mayors lists and features urban events, conferences and conventions aimed at urban decision makers and those with an interst in cities worldwide. More



City Mayors deals with urban transport issues in developed and developing countries and features the world’s greatest metro systems. More


City Mayors examines education issues and policies affecting children and adults in urban areas. More


City Mayors investigates health issues affecting urban areas with an emphasis on health in cities in developing countries. More


City Mayors reports on how business developments impact on cities and examines cooperation between cities and the private sector. More


City Mayors examines the contributions history and culture make to urban society and environment. More


City Mayors examines the importance of urban tourism to city economies. More


City Mayors questions those who govern the world’s cities and talks to men and women who contribute to urban society and environment. More


City Mayors profiles national and international organisations representing cities as well as those dealing with urban issues. More


City Mayors reports on major national and international sporting events and their impact on cities. More


City Mayors lists cities and city organisations, profiles individual mayors and provides information on hundreds of urban events. More


London City Hall
By Andrew Stevens, UK Editor

23 February 2005: It could be considered unusual to preface an article about one building with a commentary on another but the history of city government in the English capital is an unusual one.  But to begin to examine the current headquarters of the Greater London Authority’s City Hall, we should first consider the original home of London government, County Hall.

The original seat of London’s metropolitan government was County Hall, which is still in existence today and is situated on the south bank of the River Thames.  County Hall was designed for the old London County Council (1889-1965) by Ralph Knott and was opened by King George V in 1922.  Its architectural style, though an imposing presence, is very much in keeping with the municipal traditions of the period in which it was built.  County Hall then served as the headquarters of the Greater London Council (1965-1986), the successor body to the London County Council also headed by Ken Livingstone (then as ‘Leader’).

The politics of Livingstone being of sufficient irritation to it, the Greater London Council was abolished by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, with the GLC flag being lowered to the sound of Sir Edward Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’ at midnight of 31 March 1986.  Following the abolition, the assets of the council were sold off by the London Residuary Body, with County Hall being sold to a Japanese corporation, Shirayama BV in 1993.  The building was then converted into a hotel complex, restaurant and aquarium, with the famous Saatchi Gallery opening there in 2003.  A plaque commemorating its status as the seat of London government between 1913 and 1986 remains on the side of the building today.

Without a base on which to situate it, the plans for the new Greater London Authority (2000-) required a new building to house the Mayor and London Assembly.  The government then held a contest to choose the best site and design for the new building, with fifty five sites and buildings being considered.  In all eventuality, they chose to site the new building on the south bank of the Thames adjacent to Tower Bridge, an evocative symbol of the capital the world over and an area in need of regeneration.  However, the building itself was not completed until 2002 so the early years of the GLA were actually spent ‘squatting’ in a disused civil service building on Marsham Street in Westminster.  The contract to design City Hall was won by the renown Foster and Partners of Lord Norman Foster, who also designed the new Reichstag building in Berlin and the Swiss Re tower in the City of London.  However, it is unusual in that the GLA have the building on a 25-year lease rather than owning it themselves.

The City Hall itself is a very distinctive globe-shaped structure which nestles on the south bank of the Thames within close proximity to Tower Bridge, making for an interesting juxtaposition of architectural styles and functions.  The area around the City Hall is considerably regenerated compared to before its erection, with water features defining the approach to the building and the erection of further modern office spaces around it.  A 10-floor structure, it stands at 45 metres in height.  Having no definable shape, it makes the best use of natural light to add to its environmental credentials and has 185,000 square feet of available floor space.  Being built according to specific government environmental objectives, it is able to require only 25% of the energy used in comparable modern offices, with natural ventilation also.

One of the more interesting features of the building is the ramp that snakes around its internal structure, in theory allowing for open access throughout the building.  However, as the ramp allows for unfettered access through the debating chamber, it is closed off at this part so as not to disturb meetings.  The Chamber at City Hall holds 250 visitors, as well as the 25 Assembly Members.  Following 9/11, security was increased at City Hall, though it is open to the public.  The lower portion of the ramp features a poem by the Booker Prize-winning author Ben Okri, a personal meditation on London.  At the building’s exterior, an amphitheatre somewhat redolent of those of more ancient times known as ‘the Scoop’ is set into the ground and makes for a public space for concerts and the like, this being accessible from the café space in the basement level.  The upper floor is known as ‘London’s Living Room’ and can be hired for corporate events, as well as providing the venue for the Mayor’s monthly press conferences.

City Hall is open to the public during the day, the visitors must submit to security checks.  It is strange that the GLA’s main building is known as ‘City Hall’ as the Greater London jurisdiction it covers is in fact a metropolitan region – the City of London itself is the square mile covered by the City of London Corporation across the Thames.  Some have suggested that the name reflects the American ambitions of the Blair government which legislated for the GLA.



The debating chamber of London's new City Hall


Introducing Foster and Partners
Foster and Partners, who designed London’s new City Hall, is an international studio for architecture, planning and design led by Norman Foster and a group of Senior Partners. The practice’s work ranges in scale from the largest construction project on the planet, Beijing International airport to its smallest commission, a range of door furniture. The scope of its work includes masterplans for cities, the design of buildings, interior and product design, graphics and exhibitions. These can be found throughout the world, from Britain, Europe and Scandinavia to the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

The studio has established an international reputation with buildings such as the Swiss Re Headquarters in London, the new German Parliament in the Reichstag, Berlin, The Great Court for the British Museum, Headquarters for HSBC in Hong Kong and London, Commerzbank Headquarters in Frankfurt, the Metro Bilbao, the Carré d’Art Nîmes and Research Centres for Stanford University, California. There is also a strong interest in city planning and the infrastructure of communication.

Established as Foster Associates in 1967 the practice, now known as Foster and Partners, has project offices world-wide with its main studio in London. The practice has worked in 48 countries and currently has projects across 22 countries. Since its inception it has received over 300 awards and citations for excellence and has won more than 60 national and international competitions. Norman Foster became the 21st Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate in 1999 and was awarded the Praemium Imperiale Award for Architecture in 2002. He has been awarded the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal for Architecture (1994), the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture (1983), and the Gold Medal of the French Academy of Architecture (1991). In 1990 he was granted a Knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, appointed by the Queen to the Order of Merit in 1997 and in 1999 was honoured with a Life Peerage in the Queen's Birthday Honours List, as Lord Foster of Thames Bank. More:
www.fosterandpartners.com