Peter Murray: one of London’s 1000 most influential people

Profile by Bridget Osborne

By Bridget Osborne

Every year the Evening Standard puts together a list of the 1000 most influential Londoners – ‘Progress 1000, The Evening Standard’s celebration of the people who make a difference to London life’. 2018’s batch includes Peter Murray, Chairman of New London Architecture, resident of Chiswick and former vice chairman of the Bedford Park Society.

“I always wonder about lists made up by journalists” he says. I get the sense that the accolade is pleasant but at 74 perhaps not a turning point in his career. “It is quite nice that your work is recognised. I had a glass of champagne and took a selfie with George Osborne” he says mildly. The work in question was to have set up what the Standard describes as ‘one of the capital’s most significant events in the cultural calendar’, the London Festival of Architecture. This year the festival hosted 500 events across the city. ‘The New London Architecture is the centre of debate and discussion on the ever-changing face of London. Its revealing reports make headlines internationally’ reads his citation.

His achievement is to have provided a focus for debate about the built environment which has had considerable impact on the thinking about how our capital city might grow in the future.

Peter trained as an architect but has spent most of his career writing about and commenting on architecture rather than practising it. He edited the weekly newspaper for architects, Building Design, before moving on to the Royal Institute of British Architects Journal. He has curated a number of major exhibitions at the Royal Academy including the 1986 New Architecture: the work of Foster, Rogers, Stirling, and Living Bridges in 1996. He also founded the design and architecture magazine Blueprint and the global communications company Wordsearch which specialises in design and branding for architecture and real estate with offices in Beijing, Singapore, Sydney, New York as well as London. Peter is also the Mayor’s Design Advocate, a non political appointment since he held the post under Boris Johnson and continues to do so under Sadiq Khan, so he gets to put theory into practice.

His views on developments in and around Chiswick are as a consequence embedded in a more holistic approach to the development of the capital as a whole than most of us manage and have at times set him at odds with his fellow members of the Bedford Park Society. “I have a lot of neighbours who don’t agree with me” he admits.

“A cleaner, more efficient, more equal city”

“In general” says Peter, “we need a cleaner, more efficient, more equal city.” Our challenge is “how do you create more dense cities so people want to live in them?” Peter takes the long view, observing that 1939 – 1992 was a period of decline in London when the population was moved out to new towns as the capital was rebuilt after the war. Young people need to be able to afford to live in the capital. They are the drivers of the future economy. “Already tech companies are moving to Birmingham or Berlin, sapping the energy out of the future economy”.

The long term future of the capital is more important in his view than the nimbyism of those who currently enjoy a nice lifestyle in west London. “The need for development across London is very important. We’ve got ourselves into a real pickle and we have to find some better way of communicating with local people over new homes and places of work”.

Chiswick roundabout “suitable for a cluster of tall buildings”

Asked whether he supported the Curve, the 32 storey mixed residential and office development planned for Chiswick roundabout, Peter said yes, the area by the roundabout was “a suitable place for a cluster of tall buildings”and the Curve would be “an improvement to that rather sad little area”. He believes that developers are driving the way in which our city is shaped because there is a failure in planning: “there is a failure of Hounslow and the Mayor to present a plan, but in the context of a lack of a more general plan I think it (the Curve) should go ahead”. We’re seeing it as a one off tall building but we should be seeing it as part of a cluster. “There needs to be some more serious thinking about the relationship between tall buildings with the environment around them” but in general his message is that this kind of development is what needs to happen if we are to solve our housing crisis and build a basis for London’s future economy.

“CS9 not just for lycra clad blokes speeding into the City in rush hour”

He’s also pro CS9. “It needs tweaking” he says. “It is being tweaked by Transport for London. I also would not have called it a Cycle Superhighway. CS9 is not just for lycra clad blokes speeding into the City in rush hour”. He cycles in central London “in a suit, without a helmet and I don’t get up a sweat.” He is puzzled by the strength of feeling against CS9 in Chiswick. “The High Rd is polluted, noisy, full of traffic. I fail to see how there can be such antagonism when cars are 400 times more dangerous”. As one who has studied these things, he is convinced that the introduction of a segregated two way cycle lane would reduce the amount of traffic along the High Rd and also that the shops would not suffer a diminution of trade. “Retailers, the smaller ones which don’t have access to all the research don’t realise that research all round the world shows that this is not the case”.

He pointed me to the work of Daniel Arancibia in Toronto: ‘Research is showing that cyclists are good customers, that their numbers and economic impact increase with bike lanes, and that merchants overestimate the share of drivers who currently shop at their business’. Also work done in New York city by the Department of Transportation and research by Fiona Rajé and Andrew Saffrey at the University of Birmingham: ‘there are benefits to businesses of cycling, both as a utility and leisure mode, as well as the benefit of running a business in an area which is conducive to cycling’. Peter says that reading the research the general finding is that people who cycle may buy less on each visit than someone in a car, but they visit more often and over time they buy more. Peter also thinks we underestimate the importance of cycling to our own physical well-being. “Our generation are going to be crippling the NHS in ten years time”.

The New London Architecture free exhibition ‘Factory Made Housing: a solution for London?’ has just opened and runs until Friday 18 January.

Photographs below: Peter Murray in a suit with his bike, cycling from Portland Oregon to London, riding Etape London in 2017 and with Sadiq Khan