From the archive: the future of London, as predicted in 1989

For the final issue of 1989, the Observer Magazine looked beyond the next decade and asked architects, designers and academics to predict what London would look like in 2010. ‘London today is on the point of collapse, choked by traffic, its infrastructure crumbling, its population declining,’ it began. ‘Will the next 20 years bring any improvement?’

Architects Nigel Coates and Brian Hatton reckoned the future would be more about a ‘software’ change than architectural design: ‘Think of how credit cards, fax, personal computers and cellular phones have changed lives more than streets and buildings in the past 20 years.’ Largely true, but in hindsight they underestimated the ‘hardware’ – especially the millennial building frenzy that gave London the Dome, the London Eye, the Gherkin, Tate Modern et al.

‘Monorails from Notting Hill to Bank’ were perhaps a little too Blade Runner for London planners
Their prediction of ‘trams not cars’ only made it as far as south London (well, trams and cars) and as for those ‘monorails from Notting Hill to Bank’ – perhaps a little too Blade Runner for London planners.

Stephen Gardiner and Joan Scotson correctly referred to the ‘free-for-all in Docklands’ and also the development of the City: ‘As transformed, skyscrapers and towers are concentrated to create another mini-city well away from St Paul’s, thus dramatising the contrast between the old street patterns and the modern commercial centre.’

Jonathan Raban went against the grain by arguing that like New York, ‘the nastier London gets, the darker its peculiar charms, so people will be seduced by it. Just as we love the romantic melodrama of the street in Dickens, we secretly love the growing horror-show of the city we actually live in.’

‘Sadly, just as some 80s designers looked back to the 50s and 60s for influence,’ wrote Nicola Jeal about future fashion, ‘in 2010 there will be those who will try to update the 80s look.’ Yup, and it’s still going on…