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Louis Moreno

The Architecture of Financial Crisis: urban design and urban restructuring in the inner city of London and Leeds (1993 - 2008)


Recent uncertainties and instabilities within the global economy, banking sectors and financial markets have cast a shadow over the new retail, apartment and office buildings that have been developed in UK cities. Both economic commentators and cultural critics suggest that over the last decade asset speculation has engendered an urban landscape engineered for financial services and debt financed consumption. The suggestion that urban development has undermined the productive capacities of industrial cities has profound implications for urban governance, urban design and the future of the built environment.  These developments invite a reassessment of approaches to architecture and urban design, planning and urban geography which tackle seriously the critical role of economic factors in the form, structuring and meaning of urban space. Classic works of urban theory and economic geography suggest promising models of interdisciplinary analysis to understand the relationship between capital accumulation and urban aesthetics. Yet, taken as a whole, their conceptual frameworks tend to overlook the practical contexts and local dimensions of built form and space and focus narrowly on exceptional architectural forms in global city contexts – leaving a crucial gap in our knowledge about the relationship between the immediate lived spaces of contemporary cities and more general economic and geographical processes.

Against the backdrop of the build up to the 2008 crash – during a 15 year period of economic growth in the UK - this thesis investigates the role capital investments in new buildings and public spaces in the UK played in the physical restructuring of the form, function and feeling of UK cities. In particular the thesis, funded by the AHRC and CABE, explores the new commercial landscape of the City of London and Leeds to try to understand the political and economic processes behind urban investment and architectural transformation. Examining the relationship between the development of commercial property investments in office, apartment and retail space and urban regeneration policies the thesis asks: Did the recent era of asset based growth produce a new approach to urban development and design? If so how were new buildings and spaces related to new capital investment and urban development strategies? And what does the production of the built environment tell us about the role of contemporary architectural and urban design in urban economic development?  In asking these questions the thesis tries to develop a new conceptual framework drawing on theories of economic geography, real estate, critical urbanism and architecture, to understand more precisely the way larger scales of political, economic and geographical forces affect the shape, structure and culture of the contemporary inner city.

The thesis builds on a conference I organised in 2008 examining the inter-relationship between finance, architecture and urban culture. A copy of the book can be viewed and downloaded via Issuu :

This book was also recently reviewed by Owen Hatherley in Mute Magazine:

For further information about the thesis contact:

Louis Moreno
UCL Urban Laboratory
UCL Department of Geography
University College London
Pearson Building
Gower Street

Enquiries: +44 (0)20 7679 0500
Fax: +44 (0)20 7679 0565