Squares are to London what canals are to Venice or skyscrapers to New York
London’s squares are the defining features of its urban character. Amidst the immense scale and bustle of the capital, they project an image of civility, intimacy and order that is central to London’s wider reputation as a global yet human city. Crucially, in their frequent incorporation of parks to their centre, they reinforce the extent to which the idyll of natural landscape permeates deep into London’s urban fabric. And despite the perceived social regression inherent in many of these parks remaining private, in their principles of civic embellishment and shared amenity, they reveal the democratised development instincts that have often charted London’s historic evolution.
Unlike the historic prototype of the European town square or piazza, London’s squares are almost overwhelmingly residential rather than civic in origin, a circumstance that is key to understanding the model of domesticity London’s architecture presents and the historic influence of private enterprise in the assembly of the capital’s public realm. This also provides critical historic context in which to frame the current debate about privatised ‘public’ spaces across the city. Finally, in the sheer variety of their architecture, from the forensic neo-classical precision of Bedford Square to the irregular stylistic kaleidoscope of Parliament Square, London’s squares reflect the huge degree to which its townscape can swerve from the formal to the organic. If you understand London’s squares then you understand London.
Horse Guards Parade
Covent Garden Piazza
WALK START LOCATION: Westminster tube station (Exit 4) / Map
WALK ENDS: Russell Square