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Cities We Love: London

For Aneta Gesiorska, Eleven’s co-founder, the city of London is perpetually inspiring.

Earlier this year, Eleven’s co-founder and Polish native, Aneta Gesiorska, spoke to Vogue Polska about her enduring love for London, the city she calls home, and shared her favourite architecture and design destinations. As the English writer Samuel Johnson famously said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

How has London influenced you?

I first set foot in London in 2013 and was immediately struck by the imposing buildings, maze of streets and vibrant parks, all nestled beside each other in the heart of the city. The other thing I noticed was the seamless transition from old to new across the landscape. This is a city where an iconic Grade I listed building, like St Paul’s Cathedral, can exist in harmony with the thoroughly modern Millenium Bridge. Even today I get the same feeling standing in front of them – it’s hard to resist taking a step back and simply admire the view. In London, inspiration can be found on every corner.


I would like to shatter the stereotype of London as a “concrete jungle” – that a city of this magnitude must be bleak and austere. First and foremost, “concrete” isn’t inherently negative. Perhaps, when it comes to “jungle”, it is fitting, considering the abundance of parks and thoughtfully designed green spaces that grace this city.

Where do you go in London when you want to be inspired?

My favourite places in London may not be universally loved but hold immense significance for locals. The following destinations are where I go when I’m seeking inspiration.


1. Kings Cross


Of all the places that inspire me, the King’s Cross Quarter is undoubtedly my favourite. I live nearby and walk through the complex every day. It’s a great example of how different spaces can function together symbiotically.


Diversity is the central theme of this area, not just in terms of its function but also in the kaleidoscope of architectural visions. Each building, designed by a distinct architectural studio, exhibits a unique character. Lush green spaces play a considerable role in the landscape and all the plants are carefully selected for the London climate and even consider seasonal changes. In addition to the open areas, you can find more secluded garden corners, while most of the buildings feature verdant terraces.


An exciting feature of the residential area is that around 30% of the flats are subject to various support initiatives. These programs — including one for young people trying to get on the property ladder — offer opportunities to live in the flats at a fraction of the regular cost.



2. Barbican


The Barbican complex is the oldest architectural concept on my list and, in some ways, the most radical.


In December 1940, during the Blitz, Luftwaffe bombing caused massive destruction in London, including the remains of an ancient Roman wall. The City of London Corporation entrusted three architects – Peter Chamberlin, Geoffry Powell, and Christoph Bon – to work on a fresh design for the new space. The result was the Barbican, which was withstood the test of time due to both its sound urban planning and excellent execution, unlike many other post-World War II buildings. The architects were respectful of the history of the space so, to this day, the remaining parts of the Roman Wall can be seen in one of the courtyards.


The Barbican embodies the essence of brutalist architecture, a utopian vision that creates a ‘city within a city’ — a space where concrete structures intertwine with lush greenery. The architects used concrete, bright red brick and white tiles for the buildings, which were left unplastered to showcase the texture of the concrete. The soaring towers and spreading terraces of the lower buildings create a captivating interplay of heights. Moreover, up to 22 hectares of open space within the Barbican include gardens and water installations.


One of the most distinctive aspects of the Barbican is that there is no access for cars. Ease of movement between the buildings is provided by numerous elevated pedestrian crossings, bridges, and connectors. The architects called these facilities ‘highwalks’ — pedestrian highways. The idea was that most Barbican residents would work within the City and would be able to reach their offices on foot.


3. Battersea Power Station


Designed in the 1930s by British architect Giles Gilbert Scott — the mind behind the infamous red telephone box — this industrial giant was closed in the early 1980s and stood empty for nearly three decades. In 2012, the decision was made to revitalise Battersea Power Station and the surrounding area, with British architect Wilkinson Eyre at the helm.


Inside the turbine halls is a vast shopping centre, as well as the new Apple headquarters, and residential flats. The control rooms and chimneys have also been revitalised, retaining their original construction and details. One of these chimneys now features a glass lift that offers an exhilarating journey to its summit.


This is a controversial redevelopment — not all conservationists would dream of a shopping centre and luxury flats inhabiting this site. However, it is worth mentioning that some of these flats, much like those in Kings Cross, are part of a range of social and support initiatives aimed at providing affordable housing. Also worth noting is the meticulously planned greenery.


4. Frieze


One of the great things about living in London is the abundance of art, architecture, design, and fashion events happening in the city every year. One of my favourites is Frieze London, an annual art fair. Frieze has always considered architecture to be a valuable asset and it takes place in a temporary structure in Regent’s Park.


First established in 2003, the fair now has three strands. The main exhibition space is still dedicated to contemporary art but there is also Frieze Masters, featuring historical exhibits, and the appropriately named Frieze Sculptures. Frieze is especially intriguing because it’s not solely for art connoisseurs. Art and museum curators lead guided tours for those who want to learn more. Usually, the exhibits are not simply a visual delight but also draw attention to pressing issues or problems that often go unnoticed.


5. Crossrail Place Roof Garden


The last place on my list is Crossrail Place Roof Garden, which sits atop Canary Wharf tube station. Designed with a selection of plants from diverse climate zones, the roof garden is encased beneath a complex lattice timber roof structure, while a wooden frame winds around the park. The roof opens up in certain areas, allowing natural light and rain to trickle into the interior. This allows more sensitive plant species to survive the London climate.


What makes this urban oasis even more fascinating though is its geographical significance. Situated to the North of Greenwich, it lies upon the threshold between our Earth’s Eastern and Western hemispheres. Hence the ingenious idea to adorn this garden with plants from these geographical zones.

How do you stay calm and grounded amidst city life?

So much is going on at work and there is a lot of creative stimulation so my private life is relatively peaceful. I like to give my right hemisphere a rest sometimes and do something that leaves little room for interpretation — I love jigsaw puzzles. I also practised ballet for a while and I like to sew.


I think it’s healthy for everybody to escape their everyday reality once in a while. For me, it’s trips to Poland to spend time in the forest with my family or sailing in Masuria.


Lastly, when every day is spent making decisions, I am genuinely grateful to have a break, log out of my life and feel like a side character in someone else’s story. It helps me gain distance.

How would you describe your approach to work?

We are still in a period of fascination with the world of architecture, new technologies and development opportunities. There are still moments at the start of a new project where we can’t even sit still — it’s nice to have such enthusiasm at work, and I’d love to have artists joining us who share this approach. We have been lucky enough to find a group of clients who are equally passionate; few things are as satisfying as working with someone who genuinely appreciates your efforts — and for that, we are immensely grateful. I hope that this fascination, this hunger for new challenges and creative exploration, remains a defining characteristic of our approach to work for as long as possible.

How do you keep that momentum going?

Even if you have several roles at work simultaneously, you can become stagnant after a while. It is ultimately up to me how much satisfaction I find in all this. I will never be a complete expert in any field — the upside of this is that I can always improve.


Being a small company, we operate with a fair amount of freedom — we booked plane tickets to the other side of the world on the eve of a project, hoping to shoot a spectacular sunrise, and we once organised a trip to visit a small chapel in the German countryside just to photograph the texture of the concrete. For me, such moments remind me that my job is not just a job — I genuinely enjoy myself.


This interview has been translated and edited from the original Vogue Polska feature.