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Competition: How would a 24-hour city of the future look?

The UK’s Built Environment Trust has announced an ideas contest for innovative new ways to boost the night-time economies of cities around the world (Deadline: 20 April)

Backed by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the competition invites architects, landscape architects, planners, environmentalists, material scientists, economists, product designers, acoustic experts and others to draw up solutions for new 24-hour cities.

The overall winner will receive a £1,000 top prize, and the 20 top entries will feature in a major exhibition focusing on new ways to promote urban after-dark economies dubbed Night Time is The Right Time inside The Building Centre in London’s Bloomsbury. Two runners -up prizes worth £500 each will also be awarded.

London at night: Canary Wharf

London at night: Canary Wharf

London at night: Canary Wharf

According to the contest announcement: ‘The brief is broad: we want big visions and detailed specific thoughts … all can be contenders for the exhibition, publication and prizes on offer.

‘Is there a new acoustic material that might revolutionise the design of music venues? Should developers be encouraged to design-in nightlife? How can landscape design help alleviate social problems? Could the energy of night-time revellers be harnessed to feed energy back into our cities? Futuristic ideas and practical solutions will both be welcomed.’

London’s night-time economy contributes £26.3 billion to the capital’s annual GDP and supports one in eight local jobs, but is understood to be under threat from new inner-city developments and a perception the sector is linked to noise and anti-social behaviour.

Around 35 per cent of London’s grassroots music venues have closed since 2007, causing concern over the future of the capital’s clubbing culture. Last year, the city’s mayor appointed a ‘night czar’ to promote the night-time economy and turn around its fortunes last year.

Amsterdam at night

Amsterdam at night

Amsterdam at night

The appointee, Amy Lamé moved to London from New Jersey in 1992 and worked in a late night café-bar on the edge of Soho before co-founding the arts company and club night ‘Duckie’ at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

Other global cities promoting growth in their night-time economies include Amsterdam, which has had a ‘night mayor’ since 2012 and will be hosting an international summit on the initiative later this year.

Lamé will judge the latest ideas contest alongside Carl Turner of Carl Turner Architects, Dipa Joshi of Assael Architecture and Dan Batterton, a fund manager specialising in build-to-rent at Legal & General Investment Management.

Submissions must include two A2-sized presentation boards featuring sketches, sitemaps, diagrams, photographs and charts alongside team biographies and a textual project description. Videos may also be included.

How to apply


The deadline for applications has been extended to 27 April.


£25 for professionals or £10 for students

Contact details

The Building Centre
26 Store St

Tel: 02076924000

Visit the competition website for more information

London Night Czar

Q&A with competition judge Lewis Blackwell

The Built Environment Trust’s executive director for strategy and development discusses his vision for the contest

Lewis Blackwell

Lewis Blackwell

Lewis Blackwell

Why is an ideas contest being held to boost cities’ night life?

The UK’s night-time economy is worth £66 billion per year and employs 1.3 million people. Clearly it is important to many people’s lives and has major economic implications — and yet it is often neglected. Communities and local authorities are often critical of night life because it can be disruptive. It requires careful management. For example, music venues are closed down because it is often easier to prevent complex and demanding activity than to support and build on its opportunities. This despite the nightlife often being what made an area attractive in the first place to live and work in.

Sadiq Khan’s appointment of Amy Lamé as London’s first night czar is a powerful indication of the importance being placed on improving our cities at night. We are delighted to have Amy on our judging panel and for the mayor to support the competition. The push towards true 24-hour cities requires design and related professionals to engage fully, bring some of their best ideas to helping cities become productive, safe, enticing and harmonious.

What would you like to see in the competition entries?

We want to stimulate a wide range of approaches; from ideas that may be in early development to those already perhaps implemented in pilot projects. Even completely futuristic ideas will be welcome as we want to inspire and spark debate. All entries will be considered, and themes arising from entries will shape the event programme. We are creating an exhibition, so we will be looking for strong imagery as part of the submissions. But allowances will be made for the very best ideas that are difficult to share in visuals.

What sort of architects are you hoping will apply?

Large, small and emerging practices have equal standing in this competition and exhibition. Collaboration is welcome and we are particularly keen to see cross-disciplinary teams form – an architect with an engineer with an artist! A product designer’s innovation scaled up to a major environmental intervention… let’s see that kind of fertilisation! We also welcome international entries; there is a lot we can learn from how other cities approach, design and manage the night culture and economy.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects be procured?

There is a real chance here for winning entrants to connect with the policy-makers designing and planning our cities, given the connection with the GLA. We have £2,000 in prize money and extensive publicity on offer, including speaking opportunities at a number of events. We are looking forward to seeing the entries and creating a powerful programme to share their ideas.

Are there any other similar projects involving nightlife in cities you have been impressed by?

There is an incredible variety of nightlife culture around the world: you can meet fans for everywhere from Tel Aviv to Buenos Aires, Sydney to Shanghai. You only have to try and get your mind around the respective but hugely different merits of Barcelona and Las Vegas, then compare that to a crazy musical weekend in Ireland or the Shetlands, to realise there are almost infinite options. But it’s not all about wild fun; it is about thinking of the city as a 24-hour environment to live in … how do we get it to be more productive, work at scale in a new way, while becoming a better place to live. I think sustainability factors are what could be a key, fresh consideration. But it is open to the entrants to surprise and excite us. 

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