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London City Hall and The Architectural Feedback Loop

Part 2 Dissertation 2012
Anna Gillies
University of Bath UK
In 1997 The Labour Party began to address the ‘democratic deficit’ created by the lack of local government in London. The Government sought a building that would house the new Greater London Authority but at the same time symbolise their contemporary approach to politics at the start of the 21st century. This symbolic role, the communication of ‘meaning,’ is as programmatic for town hall architecture as facilitating the everyday functions of democracy. Completed in 2002, London City Hall is unlike traditional town hall architecture but in its attempt to evolve the typology the building appears uncertain in its metropolitan significance. City Hall and its ambiguous form provide the focused subject around which an investigation into ‘meaning in architecture’ is constructed.

Buildings are formed by the needs and customs of society and as the setting for human life, the built environment also re-informs our social practices. This dissertation is written in support of a relationship between architecture and meaning and seeks to reinforce the existence of both a ‘generative’ and ‘conservative’ informative feedback loop between London City Hall and society, in which both inform the development of the other. The aim of the paper is to examine the proposed ‘feedback loop’ in order to discover the success of City Hall’s architectural clarity and to learn more about the mechanisms of architectural signification. This investigation of the ‘feedback loop’ involves a discussion parallel to the structure of communication itself and so the ‘intended meaning’ and ‘perceived meaning’ of City Hall are systematically considered. In relation to City Hall’s ability to inform society, this paper also discusses the role and impact of the Architect as ‘translator’ of social meaning into built form.

This investigation has highlighted that architecture cannot be isolated from the social practices that create it or those that inhabit it. A decade after its completion, City Hall’s architecture and its meaning is a product of both. It is also clear that only an architecture engaged with several modes of communication can be expected to remain clear and informative within the complex processes of the ‘feedback loop.’

Anna Gillies

Prof Vaughan Hart
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