Notable Alumni - Peter Rees

Peter Rees
Town Planning, 1982

Robert Humphreys

As Chief Planning Officer for the City of London, Peter Rees (Town Planning, 1982) has overseen the transformation of the Square Mile from the preserve of staid bowler-hatted gents to a vibrant international business hub with 24-hour appeal.

Peter's remit when he arrived at the Guildhall in 1985 to head up the Corporation of London’s planning department was to reshape the City in response to financial deregulation – the so-called ‘Big Bang’ that opened up London’s money markets and led to a massive influx of business and investment.

For Peter, who studied architecture at UCL and Cardiff, the challenge has been to look forward while respecting the City’s rich history. ‘I see my role as striking a balance between a 2000-year history and a 2000-year future,’ he says. That same thread runs throughout his career, from his time working with townscape consultant Gordon Cullen to the Department of the Environment’s conservation team and then to Lambeth Council, where his role was to breathe new life into the borough’s neglected buildings. 

It was at this point that he decided he needed a formal qualification in town planning to add to his grounding in architecture, and spent three years at LSBU studying part time, before making the move to the Guildhall. ‘It was important to me to formalise my knowledge of town planning,’ he says. ‘I’ve always been more interested in how whole areas work, rather than individual buildings. It’s the mix of elements that makes a place dynamic.’
 
That said, the cluster of skyscrapers now emerging at the City’s eastern end, including the Norman Foster-designed ‘Gherkin’, Richard Rogers’ ‘Cheesegrater’ and the Walkie-Talkie are among the most exciting and innovative anywhere in the world. But for all their boldness, Peter believes it is the buildings’ sensitivity to their surroundings that matters more. ‘Whether it’s protecting a view, or creating a public space, a new building must give something to the place it’s in,’ he says. 

Nearly three decades on, Peter’s enthusiasm for his role remains undimmed. Ask him which of the buildings he’s been involved with makes him most proud, and he answers promptly, ‘The next one’. But he hints that the next year or so may see a change of some kind in his professional life with, perhaps, more of an emphasis on education and mentoring young architects and planners around the world. 

‘It’s so stimulating to come into contact with different cultures, and with young people at the start of their careers, who’re brimming with ideas and questions,’ he says. ‘My advice to anyone interested in architecture or planning to seize every opportunity to become a part of the team dedicated to making better places.’ 

© London South Bank University 2018