Established in 2006, Design for London was an experiment in urban development with the research aim to devise a cohesive strategy of tactical urban design for regenerating London. London does not have a culture of top-down state planning and is a city antipathetic to grand designs. It is a place of a thousand plans and a million styles whose growth may be anarchic and fragmented. Design for London responded dynamically to this context by 'catching and steering' to shape, rather than by direct planning through formal powers or the control of budgets. It also identified areas of potential urban change and fashioned intervention strategies. Design for London relied on its ability to influence through the Mayor's support. The result of this was a unique body of work that has had a disproportional impact on the development of the city.
The approach to urbanism was to develop big ideas and implement them through myriad small steps. Its effectiveness lay in its ability to form alliances to influence public agencies and private developers and to improve design quality through better design procurement and constructive design critique. Its overarching objective was to harness London's growth to create a better city for all of its citizens.
The studio, at its height, consisted of 25 staff. In conjunction with its partners, and collaborating architects, planners, researchers, and local authorities, the studio produced six types of research-based design processes and outcomes: (1) town centre rejuvenation and local plan making; (2) commissioning and procurement; (3) strategies for public open spaces at local level; (4) landscape strategies at regional level; (5) housing policy and streetscape guidance; (6) exhibitions and campaigns. Over a six-year period it developed several documents, including policy on housing design standards, public space, procurement and environmental standards and programmes, and materialized 16 new public spaces in London, three large-scale spatial strategies and three comprehensive town centre regeneration strategies.
Design for London commissioned many award-winning projects, including: East London Green Grid (Landscape Institute 2008); St Andrew's Hospital (Building for Life 2010; Brick Award 2011); Making Space in Dalston (Landscape Institute 2010, Urban Design and Masterplanning, President's Awards 2011; Hackney Design Award 2010; Urban Intervention Award 2010); Barking Central (World Architecture Festival: commendation 2010; Building for Life 2010; New London Awards 2011); Barking Town Square (European Prize for Urban Public Space 2008; London Planning Award 2009/2010).