Monday, 7 June 2010

Wrong building demolished in Farringdon

A very big hole has appeared in the townscape of Farringdon Road (London EC1), on the corner with Cowcross Street, where a building has been knocked down to allow the construction of the Crossrail station.

Unfortunately, they seem to have knocked down the wrong one.

The one that went was one of those neutral 1960s offices building that no one ever notices, even though it's far bigger than its neighbours. The one they left, to its north, shown above, is a po-mo (post-modern) number from the 1980s. According to the Survey of London this was described by Hugh Pearman as 'Early Learning Centre architecture' and nominated by him as one of the two worst buildings of 1992. It is regularly namechecked as people's least favourite postwar building in London (and there's some competition).

A few years ago, while working for CABE, I was twice involved in trying to find new offices for them. We couldn't pay very high rents, and the space that came up tended to be in office buildings built either in the 1980s or in the 1960s. On more than one occasion, we found half decent space in a 1980s office building that was so embarrassingly awful in its appearance - usually involving shiny purple granite and large balls used prominently somewhere as a decorative element - that we decided we couldn't locate there; each time we went for more neutral examples of 1960s architecture, first at the very plain Elizabeth House in Waterloo, and then at the architecturally superior and slightly more assertive, but still calmly classy, CAA building in Kingsway.

It's a generation thing, I think - maybe Oedipal in origin. Each generation reacts against the tastes of the one before. At the moment, po-mo looks decidedly not the thing, but maybe it will come back. Buildings can be listed, generally speaking, after 30 years, so the earliest 1980s buildings can now be considered. Stirling's No. 1 Poultry, a rather later building, would be top of my list as a London exemplar of the movement.

The building at Farringdon wouldn't be. If the Crossrail project was being run by quality surveyors rather than quantity surveyors, surely a way would have been found of getting rid of this monster.

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