City Branding and Urban Narratives of Victorian London
Branding of everyday spaces and particularly of urban environments is commonly considered as a contemporary design strategy that may not only have economic effect but also cultural consequences on those that inhabit the spaces. However this phenomenon can be observed as a central theme, from the mid nineteenth century onwards, when cities started to compete for their international standing by staging large-scale international exhibitions. This paper explores city branding and the development of an urban identity in its historical context and evaluates its long lasting significance for the present. For this purpose I focus on Victorian London and argue that the Great Exhibition in 1851, the first international festival, was used as a device to develop an identity for London: a world city of power and consumption, a centre of culture and entertainment and beyond that also a city of tolerance and social progress. In this context, the urban identity is constructed by developing a narrative that enables people to share a common story within the city environment. By looking at the relationship between the event and the host city, multiple layers of the unifying story are uncovered, insofar as they are narrated and manifested through the visual consumption of artefacts and architecture and the constructed spaces. But most importantly, the investigation shows that the narrative is expressed though social exchanges and interactions of the visitors and the inhabitants of London. Therefore, the Great Exhibition in 1851 can be seen as a point of departure for accounts of space branding and urban identity from which particularly designers can learn important lessons today.
Keywords: City Branding, Urban Identity, Design, Narrative, Victorian London, Great Exhibition 1851
Senior Design Researcher (Strategy and Cultural Analysis), Seymourpowell Foresight Team, Seymourpowell
Graduated MSc Culture and Society, 2007 London School of Economics and Political Science, London. Her dissertation ‘Designing Cultural Perspectives’ was focusing on design research methodologies and the role of cultural analysis in the design process. Previous to that she worked as a packaging designer and researcher at Tin Horse Design, a structural packaging design company, Marlborough and graduated BA Hons. Product Design, 2003 Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London. She lived in Poland, Germany, Ireland and UK.