Monday, 29 April 2013

An architectural family tree at Cannon Street - the song remains the same

Peter Frame's Rock Family Trees are a delight for music geeks - and appear to be a nice little earner for their author and artist.  Someone should do the same for postwar UK architecture - though I suppose the market might be a bit more limited.

An example of an architectural family get-together can be seen at Cannon Street.  The powerful exoskeleton of Foggo Associates' new building over Cannon Street Station (centre of picture) has a clear affinity with its neighbour, Arup Associates' 80 Cannon Street of 1972-6 (the Pevsner guide calls the latter a 'startling tower', though rather more startling towers have appeared in the vicinity since that was written...).

Foggo Associates emerged in 1989 from Arup Associates, where Peter Foggo (who died in 1993) and his team had been responsible for many of the latter's most notable projects through the 1970s and 80s.

The recent reminiscing prompted by Lady Thatcher's death has reminded us how much there was that was awful about the 1980s.  Arup Associates' work from that decade showed them unable resist the tide of PoMo, and included the part of Broadgate covered in stuck-on granite framing, seen above - one of the more dignified commercial projects of that decade, but nevertheless unlikely to be regarded as highly by posterity as projects such as 1 Finsbury Avenue nearby - which was only a year or two earlier, but really the swan song of Arup's more rigorous 70s style.  Other 1980s projects by Arup Associates, such as the building at Bristol Harbourside, also look rather dated, at least in parts, and suggest that being 'civic' was not their forte - whatever one thinks of the whole sorry saga of Paternoster Square, it's probably for the best that their scheme for that site remained unbuilt.

The new Cannon Street building can be seen as a return to form for the Arup family - a welcome contrast to the skin deep architecture that is so prevalent elsewhere.

Rock family tree comparisons spring readily to mind - for example, the embarrassment of Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, a hero of the 60s and 70s, getting himself a new wave perm in the Thatcher years - but fully redeemed by his own remarkable return to form more recently.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Are tall buildings blighting our skyline?

To the RIBA / Observer debate on tall buildings, where we hear from Rowan Moore and Simon Jenkins (two journalists), who think tall buildings are a blight, and from Julia Barfield and Peter Rees (two professionals), who don't.

For such a subject that is so emotive - at least in architectural and planning circles -  it was a surprisingly even-tempered and consensual occasion, with everyone, panel and audience, lay and professional, basically agreeing that the answer to the question 'are tall buildings blighting our skyline?' is that the ugly ones are and the beautiful ones aren't; and that it would be nice if there was a bit more planning to counter the opportunism of the promoters of projects.

Moore thought that the London Plan sets out the right policies and quality standards, but that many project that have been built or approved fail to meet these policies and standards.  Rees made the slightly odd assertion that you shouldn't build high unless it is necessary to do so (why not?), but that it is necessary in the City because there is no spare land, so you should make sure you do it well.  Barfield pointed out that you can't blight a skyline with beautiful buildings, and reminded us that the best tall buildings are listed.  Jenkins' view was that the argument is about planning, not architecture, and that the 'pass was sold' long ago.

For Jenkins, the problem is that there is no one to dictate what the skyline should be like.  Your blogger pointed out from the floor that dictating is best done by dictators - my thinking being that lack of consensus is part of the problem. Is the fact that some people don't want these things - almost certainly a minority - enough to stop those who want to build them, who are doing so because they are providing offices and flats that are wanted?  And in spite of the theoretical consensus about stopping the ugly ones, there is less agreement than you might think about which those are.

This was a room full of people who cared about the subject; most don't.  The self-selecting audience - with those admitting to being architects, in a show of hands prompted by Simon Jenkins who thought he was in the lions' den, forming only about a quarter of those present - answered 'no' by a clear majority to the proposition.

The most chilling observation of the evening, almost certainly accurate, came from Rowan Moore, who suggested that the planning car crash that is the 'emerging Vauxhall cluster' of towers is a result of a development zone being on the border of two local authorities (Lambeth and Wandsworth), the politicians of each of which are prepared to let rip, in development terms, because there are few voters nearby who care, and other areas of the boroughs will benefit from what Jenkins referred to as the 'bribes' (Section 106 etc.) that smooth the path of these things.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


The Architecture of Funny Shapes was superseded some time ago by the New Boring.  But just when you thought that the straight line and the right angle had regained their rightful supremacy, it seems that vertical fins have gone all twisty...

...not just here in Farringdon Street, but on several big UK projects currently on the drawing board.   Did it start with the Olympic Stadium, which did something similar with its 'wrap' ribbons - or did they get the idea from somewhere else?

If you want to give your building's elevations a little bit more life than would accurately represent the suits that will occupy it, this is probably a better and cheaper way than twisting the whole building. .