Architecture and crisis: Re-inventing the icon, re-imag(in)ing London and re-branding the City

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London's skyline is changing significantly with a new generation of iconic buildings, of which the Swiss-Re Tower is the most well known. Despite the fact that many of these buildings are located in the City (London's financial heart), little attention has been paid to the relationship between the transformation of London's skyline and the recent institutional reconfiguration of the Corporation of London, the authority that runs the City. Focusing empirically on the City's iconic architecture, and foregrounding a period of institutional crisis for the Corporation (1970-1990), the paper: first, departs from the standard analysis of iconic buildings as signifiers of economic success, and sketches a framework for examining the role of iconic architecture during moments of crisis and, second, offers a new approach to understanding the City's iconic commissions: not as signifiers of London's international economic power, but as symptoms of changes in the institutions and élites that promote the City's new urbanity. The article details how the internationalisation of London's economy after the 1970s challenged the Corporation's insular character. The Corporation's resistance to the 'invasion' of foreign companies, people and architectural styles in the City in the midst of a rapid expansion of London's economy and growing inter-urban competition, led to open threats from the government for the abolition of the Corporation. Responding to these threats, the Corporation reinvented itself with an institutional reform and re-branded its identity in the early 2000s as an outward-looking institution, open to London's new transnational élites. The 2002 Unitary Development Plan that introduced a new architectural language in the City corresponds to the same need to construct a new imaginary identity for a re-branded Corporation. Towering over the City's traditional signifiers, the City's new buildings constitute an ode to the Corporation's new identity and a visual coup d'état against its time-old heritage-oriented planning. © 2010 The Author. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers © 2010 Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2010.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-474
Number of pages21
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


  • City
  • Crisis
  • Iconic architecture
  • Imaginary
  • London Corporation


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