Locating London’s Local Character and Density

Allies and Morrison has been shortlisted in the Cities and Community category for the RIBA President’s Award for Research for a groundbreaking study undertaken on London’s characterisation and density for Historic England. The work reveals a finer grain picture of urban character across London, which hopes to inform a more nuanced framework for planning and development across the capital. As London witnesses a major densification of areas driven by the absence of new land for new homes, the research aims to prolong The London Plan’s longevity and its sustainable intentions by proactively contributing to the debate around the residential density matrix.

The study challenges a previous assumption that London is comprised of three broad character types: central, urban and suburban. Using Geographic Information Software (GIS), a comprehensive mapping through London – taken as a transect from one end of the GLA boundary to the other – uncovers a rich tapestry of previously underappreciated typologies, which have developed relatively independently from the longstanding supposition of central / urban / suburban.

The report identifies new character types that reflect a deep and variable history of London, as well its evolution over 1,000 years of development and growth. These more nuanced character typologies have evolved from a range of sources, ranging from historic market towns to centres of Victorian industry. The new neighbourhoods have also been shaped by various factors, including transport links, ever shifting planning regulations and history.

The study asserts that all character types can contribute to growth, including historic and conservation areas which have previously been built around, rather than being incorporated into planning. A critical finding was that the greater the existing variety of character, the greater flexibility it held for future development.

These findings could assist in better utilising heritage assets in the future, alongside a more sophisticated understanding of street morphology and urban grain and how these can accommodate change. By embracing the true diversity of London’s character typologies, this work provides a contextually-rich reframing of the way London could plan for intensification.