The city architect: Meet RMIT’s Tom Holbrook

The city architect: Meet RMIT’s Tom Holbrook

UK-based architect and RMIT Professor Tom Holbrook is a London Mayor Design Advocate – one of 42 practitioners appointed by the city to promote quality and inclusion in the built environment with the aim of making London an even better place in which to live and work.

Holbrook, who is also the founder of spatial design practice 5th Studio in the UK, helps to deliver on the Mayor’s Good Growth by Design Programme – a series of projects and policies across the Greater London Authority Group.

He joins other high-profile practitioners serving as Mayor’s Design Advocates (MDAs) including Sir David Adjaye OBE, Hanif Kara OBE, Farshid Moussavi OBE and Sir David Chipperfield CBE.

In Holbrook’s words, the initiative is 'accepting the fact that growth is not necessarily always a good thing for a city, especially when it comes to the environment'. 

"Our work explores aspects of growth, such as those related to the economy or infrastructure, and considers how it can be as positive or ecologically sustainable as possible by using appropriate design policies and approaches," he said. 

This includes establishing policies to tackle water wastage and reuse in London as part of a circular economy. 

Our work explores aspects of growth and considers how it can be as positive or ecologically sustainable as possible by using appropriate design policies and approaches.

– Professor Tom Holbrook

Holbrook has also explored the dynamics of ‘privately owned public spaces’, such as when a new development includes public space but it’s not necessarily with the same conditions as the street. 

“We’ve been working on a charter that sets a standard for public spaces in London that developers should accept and adhere to,” he said. 

“There’s a great amount of diversity in the work we do as MDAs – from reviewing existing practice through to helping to set policy.

“Underpinning everything is a focus on ecological urbanism and helping to create a city that reflects the diversity of its population.” 

Holbrook’s connection with the city of London runs deep, having collaborated on a series of public realm interventions including the urban recovery of London’s Royal Docks as well as temporary outdoor dining measures across the West End during pandemic restrictions. 

The architect said that London is one of many cities around the world where a rise in the role of the mayor is allowing a means to ‘get stuff done and respond to what the population wants’. 

“Mayor Ada Colau in Barcelona is driving the implementation of the city’s superblocks and a ‘new Municipalism’, while Mayor Anne Hidalgo in Paris is spearheading the concept of the 15-minute city, among others.” Holbrook said.  

“Here in London, I've worked with every mayor since Ken Livingstone in 2000 through to Sadiq Khan today. 

“Mayors are the pioneers we need for the environmentally sustainable and resilient cities we’re striving towards.” 

Story: Karen Matthews

Banner image: Excerpt of a map by Adam Towle at Design for London, Part of the Greater London Authority. Article on this map at


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.