In his County of London Plan of 1943 Sir Patrick Abercrombie proposed a new bridge across the Thames between Temple and the South Bank. Thirty years later Richard Rogers proposed a similarly located bridge to connect his Coin Street development with the north bank. A 1995 report prepared for the Government Office for London by engineers Arup confirmed that such a bridge was a good idea.
John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment at that time, agreed and sponsored an exhibition at the Royal Academy to promote it. Later, along came Joanna Lumley, national treasure and champion of worthy causes, who suggested a “garden bridge” designed by Thomas Heatherwick, without doubt one of the cleverest designers of his generation and dubbed by Sir Terence Conran the “Leonardo of our times”. The then Mayor of London Boris Johnson supported Lumley, and Transport for London (TfL) drew up a robust business case for the project.
So what could possibly have gone wrong? While cost, politics and an anti-Boris backlash played its part, the real problems emerged out of the design and procurement processes.
Lumley’s plans lie in tatters after Johnson’s successor, Sadiq Khan, announced that he would not provide financial guarantees following the publication of the report he had commissioned from Margaret Hodge MP. With pledges of private funding amounted to only £69m and potential capital costs put at “north of £200 million”, the gap between what is required and what has been promised for the capital investment is likely to be well in excess of £70m. In the light of Hodge’s findings it is little surprise that Khan pulled the plug. The writing had been on the wall for some time.
Hodge reported that “the inspiration for a Garden Bridge came from both Thomas Heatherwick and Joanna Lumley”. This was incorrect. The 1996 Living Bridges exhibition at the Royal Academy – featuring a series of spectacular models spanning a miniature Thames – illustrated the results of a competition for designs for a bridge on precisely the same site as the one Lumley proposed. The concept was supported by Gummer on the basis that, should a bridge be built, it would not require any money from the public purse. Rather, it would be funded by development either on the bridge itself or on the banks of the river.
A professional jury, of which the Secretary of State was himself a member, selected a design by Zaha Hadid as the winner. Hadid’s characteristically dramatic structure housed a collection of high end apartments that would have paid for the construction of the crossing. But the popular reaction to her scheme was that the the river was public space and should not be encroached on by private owners. Visitors to the exhibition voted instead for a design by the French architect Antoine Grumbach, whose envisaged Garden Bridge was suspended from a tower block next to Temple Station, the development of which would have funded the new structure.
With the help of the businessman Christopher Moran, Gummer attempted to promote the construction of Grumbach bridge before the Conservative government he was a member of was voted out of office in the 1997 general election. He was unsuccessful. Even so, Stephen Musgrave, chief executive of the Grosvenor Estate, retained an interest in the concept for several years with the view that the bridge would add value to the riparian land. The estate funded the storage of the Royal Academy’s bridge models with the expectation of reprising the show when new plans were prepared. However, in 2004 all the models were destroyed in the disastrous fire in Momart’s Leyton warehouse. Musgrave’s departure from Grosvenor in 2006 put an end to the idea.
By that time Joanna Lumley had picked up on Grumbach’s concept. Her initial idea was to build an “orchard bridge” on the Royal Academy’s proposed site as a memorial to Princess Diana. She suggested the idea to Chancellor Gordon Brown, who chaired the Princess Diana Memorial Committee and seemed keen. When the committee chose the Kathryn Gustafson Fountain in Hyde Park as a memorial instead, the bridge went on the back burner until Lumley wrote to Boris Johnson shortly after his election for a second mayoral term in 2012. Tellingly, she said she was proposing a “green pedestrian bridge, with cycle tracks alongside, with container-grown trees: and beauty and practicality in equal measure”.
But the design put in for planning was very different from the one described in Lumley’s letter. It was not a pedestrian bridge as such, it was a bridge designed for people to meander and tarry slowly down; to “hear birds singing; hear leaves rustling”. It was a bridge that would attract tourists and visitors and be of less attraction to working Londoners who want to get from A to B in the most efficient manner. It was modelled to take 12 minutes to cross (the Millennium Bridge takes three minutes). Its supporters were thus more likely to be those who promoted tourism, or tourists themselves, rather than Londoners. Its benefits were unclear to the community on the South Bank, which has a long history of fighting off new development projects.
London is a pragmatic city. To Londoners, bridges are for getting from one side to the other. The sort of mixture described in Lumley’s first letter to Boris might have worked, but Lumley shot the project in the foot with her decision to exclude cycling. “Being a Lambeth resident and using the Tube, I walk a lot,” she told the Lambeth planning committee. “I’m the only one you can blame for not having cycles on this bridge. I said that I believe that cyclists speeding over the bridge would stop it being a peaceful place to walk.” In one fell swoop she antagonised the most powerful environmental lobby in town. She would not get any more support from cyclists; the sop that they could “push their bikes across the bridge” further exacerbated their negative feelings towards the crossing.
The Garden Bridge Trust, which had been set up in 2013 to deliver the project, was no more adept at understanding the sensitivities of those involved in the highly charged debate regarding “privately-owned, publicly accessible space” (POPAS). The report to the planning committee said that, “All groups of eight or more visitors would be required to contact the Garden Bridge Trust to request a formal visit to the bridge”. This was to “assist visitor management” and “discourage protest groups”. A suggestion that photographers might be charged for taking pictures from the bridge enraged a group who have been vociferous in the POPAS debate. Although these draconian management proposals were later amended by the trust, the damage was done.
Perhaps the greatest damage of all was inflicted by the dogged determination of award-winning reporter Will Hurst of the Architects’ Journal, who made frequent and effective use of freedom of information requests. Without his regular disclosure about Boris Johnson’s correspondence and meetings, the national press and politicians would have had much less evidence-based ammunition with which to attack the project.
The bridge made a good story for the AJ because it touched on key concerns of its readers. First, the relationship between Heatherwick – a designer – and the architectural profession is a sensitive one. There remains a feeling that he is treading on their patch. Designers do furniture, products and interiors, goes the argument, but architecture requires a different level of intellectual engagement and holistic thinking. This divide was inflamed when Heatherwick attacked the designs for the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant development, which he branded as “empty, cynical and vacuous” and “downright lazy”. The fact that the designs were by four of the profession’s most respected firms – AHMM, Allies & Morrison, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Wilkinson Eyre – confirmed Heatherwick as an outsider in AJ readers’ eyes.
The other key element that helped Hurst’s stories run and run is the profession’s concern about the procurement of projects. Walter Menteth, chairman of the RIBA’s procurement reform group, provided Hurst with regular comment on the failings of the TfL processes, which fitted with Menteth’s views that “there is an ascendance of procedures lacking transparency and democratic accountability, with nepotism, collusion and corrupt practices gaining ground”.
It was open to the mayor and TfL to work with Heatherwick Studio without a competitive procurement process. But TfL Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy and Head of Planning Michele Dix chose not to do so. They wanted to look at options. Architects Wilkinson Eyre, who were known to TFL for their designs for the cable car at Greenwich, and Marks Barfield, who delivered the London Eye, were invited to tender. On the face of it, a perfectly sensible thing to do.
But because there was lot of pressure from Mayor Johnson to get the project moving, the ensuing process was rushed, with a brief that should have made clearer what TfL was looking for. Heatherwick had been working on the project for many months. The others had a couple of weeks to come up with design advice for developing the concept of a new footbridge, not an iconic new addition to London’s landscape, although it did specify that the footbridge “would also be a positive contribution to this important cultural and leisure destination”.
In a generous statement following the publication of the Hodge Report, Julia Barfield stated that had Marks Barfield been aware of Heatherwick Studios’ involvement and original idea, they would not have submitted a tender: “There is still honour and respect between architects and designers.”
Yet, given the situation they found themselves in, it was not unreasonable of Hendy and Dix to seek some reassurance by asking other experienced practitioners for proposals. It would certainly have been easier to have made a direct appointment of Heatherwick, given the pressure they were under from City Hall. Richard de Cani told Hodge: “The timescale pressure was coming from City Hall because this was seen as a second-term deliverable.” Hodge commented that decisions on the bridge were driven by electoral cycles – a somewhat naive comment from a politician of Hodge’s experience. Was it not ever thus?
For Hendy, Boris was in charge. In his evidence to Hodge he said, “I took the view – and I still do – that, actually, if you’ve got a mandate of between four and five million voters, then if you want to do something which isn’t in the mayor’s transport strategy…a mayoral direction allows you to tell the organisation what to do.”
The Hodge report agrees that one of the most important responsibilities the London Mayor enjoys is to take action to enhance London and make it a better and more attractive place for people to live in, work in and visit. “Renewing the infrastructure through innovative ‘grands oeuvres’ is vital to ensuring that London maintains its leading edge as one of the most appealing capital cities in the world,” she wrote.
I have supported the Garden Bridge for just this reason since its inception, in spite of reservations about its focus as a place to stop rather than to cross and in spite of its ban on cycling. The layout could surely be changed over time to suit different users. As a new London landmark, the bridge would enhance not just the river but the riparian environment. It is the right place for a bridge. Hodge criticises TFL’s “robust” business plan, preferring the views of the Treasury – hardly a great bellwether of urban improvement.
I prefer the views of Richard Rogers – appropriately ennobled as Lord Rogers of Riverside. Writing in the Architects’ Journal, he gave an eloquent and convincing argument for the bridge’s location:
“The bridge is perfectly located in the heart of London. It’s a vital meeting point, a hinge between Central London’s neighbourhoods. On the north bank, Aldwych (which will also be partially pedestrianised) marks the transition from Covent Garden theatres to Temple legal chambers. On the other axis, walking routes lead north through Bloomsbury and Lincoln’s Inn, to King’s Cross and Euston. But this route comes to a dead end at Aldwych; the Thames lies unnoticed down a dingy side street over a fast-moving high street. On the south side of the river, the bridge will land on the spectacular riverside walkway that has done so much for what was once a no-go area.”
Interestingly, this is the reverse of Abercrombie’s justification, illustrating just how much London has been transformed since WW2 by his plans, which included a tree-lined walkway along the south bank and a new National Theatre. The post war planner believed that the south bank was “perhaps the greatest of all London’s lost opportunities. On the north is vitality, with public access to enable the river’s attractions to be enjoyed. On the south, dull and monotonous decay.”
One of the reasons Thames Central Open Spaces opposed the Garden Bridge was concerns that the South Bank would become overcrowded. However, it would be more likely to draw people to the north of the river, with its space and attractions.
The most likely fallout of the Garden Bridge debacle and the Hodge Report is a review of the procurement procedures – certainly at TfL and possibly within City Hall. It is important that this does not discourage the sort of independent initiative that promoted the project at the outset.
Hodge says that “grands oeuvres” have their place. She is right. But such projects emerge from the capital’s creative community, which requires encouragement rather than the ghastly trolling that has characterised the debate surrounding the Garden Bridge. We need visions for a better city.
In a previous Royal Academy exhibition – New Architecture: The Work of Foster Rogers Stirling – Richard Rogers proposed the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square and a park on the Victoria Embankment, a project that has provided an ongoing vision for public space improvements in the West End ever since. Barfield Marks’ London Eye has transformed the South Bank and visitor perceptions of the capital. Terry Farrell has proposed numerous improvement projects, from Nash Ramblas to the Thames Gateway National Park. Norman Foster raised the level of public debate about London’s airports with his plans for the London Hub. Re Form architects have put in many hours of pro bono work on the Rotherhithe-Canary Wharf bridge to help move that project forward. Throughout the capital architects and planners work with local communities to develop ideas for improving neighbourhoods, an initiative now recognised by Mayor Khan with his Crowdfund London project. Any new procurement guidance generated as a result of the Hodge report should make it easier for such initiatives to come forward.
The Garden Bridge was one 13 new crossings proposed by the Johnson administration. “From Fulham in the west to Dartford in the east, this is a vital package of crossings that will drive economic growth and get more people walking, cycling and on to public transport,” he said. This is a strategy that overrides mayoral terms and one that Sadiq Khan continues, in slightly amended form, with plans for the Rotherhithe-Canary Wharf bridge, the Silvertown Tunnel, the extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Thamesmead, a riverbus between Canary Wharf and North Greenwich and a new river crossing at Barking Riverside.
So what next? Can the Garden Bridge Trust come up with the private funds they need to complete the job? Could a triumphant Theresa May cock a snook at Khan and get the Department for Transport to provide the necessary financial guarantees? Or perhaps the Mayor could go for a simpler walking and cycling bridge. Architect Ian Ritchie – who also came up with the idea for a garden bridge in the Royal Academy competition – has written in the Architects’ Journal: “An elegant pedestrian/cyclist bridge could be realised for £30 million and it would not need high security, restricted access, a marketing/shop/maintenance building on the South Bank, nor require the sale or leasing of public land for private use on either bank.” This solution got a pretty positive thumbs up in the original business plan in all regards, except that it wasn’t green and would not be self-funding. A bridge like that would attract at least 10,000 people a day. Charge them a £1 toll and you would pay off the capital costs in a couple of years!
Such a project would support the mayor’s strategies for improving conditions for walking and cycling in the heart of the capital and provide a popular connection between north and south banks. With a transparent rerun of the competition between Heatherwick, Barfield Marks and Wilkinson Eyre, Sadiq could deliver a “grand oeuvre” that London could be proud of while reinforcing the capital’s reputation as a creative and cultural hub.
This article was first published on Dave Hill's On London website www.onlondon.co.uk
Clerkenwell used to be affordable. In 1996 I worked on the Living Bridges exhibition at the Royal Academy with Nigel Coates who had offices in the pre-refurbishment Morelands Building at the junction of Goswell Road and Old Street. It was big and cold, the loos were dickensian, but it was only £4 a sq foot. The same space now would cost you fifteen times that amount. not great for small companies, nor great for start ups. OK, so if you can’t afford Clerkenwell, why not move east where its cheaper - for the time being? But the new businesses which are the future of the London economy cannot keep moving further and further out, they might as well go to Birmingham, Bristol or Berlin - and quite a lot of them are. Which it is why it is very important that Sadiq Khan should make the provision of affordable workspace a key part of his planning policy in the new London Plan that he is working on right now and which will determine the future shape of London for the next 30 years. More easily said than done - Islington have supported affordable space near the Old Street Roundabout but even with a 50 per cent grant rents can work out at around £40 a square foot, which is hardly cheap. The Mayor’s plan should look strategically at where affordable space should be provided and come up with a scheme that makes affordable workspace a key element in all new development, just as he does with housing. In London’s economy it is impossible to stop rising rents - or gentrification if you like - that can only be balanced by some sort of public intervention. Co-working spaces and less onerous leases have helped new businesses but are unlikely to be enough in the rough and tumble of the post Brexit economy.
This article first appeared in the Clerkenwell Post
I'm fed up with the impossibility of knowing what the coming year holds and go along with RSA's Matthew Taylor who writes in today's Observer that perhaps it's best to "abandon the task of objective prediction in favour of the search for hope". So my new year's resolution is to get on with projects that can make a difference without waiting to find out what's going to happen in the rest of the world. Here are ten of them.
Bob Hoskins’ character Harold Shand in the film ‘The Long Good Friday’ was both a gangster and a visionary. Back in 1980 Harold understood the potential of London’s docklands: ‘….having cleared away the outdated, we’ve got mile after mile, acre after acre of land for our future prosperity… so it’s important that the right people mastermind the new London…’ he says to a boatload of US investors as they pass under Tower Bridge on a trip to the east.
I was reminded of the iconic film while putting together a lecture recently for a conference in Shanghai on the subject of waterfront development. Harold’s vision actually came from script writer Barrie Keeffe who had been a reporter on the Stratford Gazette and got the idea for the storyline from overhearing local councillors discussing the regeneration of the area. Much of Docklands was deserted at that time and good for little else but filming gangster car chases. The London Docklands Development Corporation was set up by the Government in 1981 and as a result, today Canary Wharf stands sentinel at the riverine entrance to London - an iconic reminder of the UK capital’s transformation from a maritime and manufacturing economy to a service economy with a significant focus on the financial sector.
Like Shanghai, London exists because of a river. The Romans who arrived in Britain 2000 years ago selected the area that is now London because it was the earliest spot where they could build a bridge. Because of the River Thames London became a busy port in the medieval period, beginning a relationship with the wider world that remains to this day.
The Chinese have historically appreciated the benefits and delights of waterfront locations; but it has taken us some time to catch up. When Surrey Docks was developed - 90 per cent of the water spaces were filled in. Until recently we have associated waterways with pollution and the big stink. This suspicion of water can be seen to this on the canals where most development turned its back on the water. The fact that an unencumbered waterfront view can provide an uplift in value of anywhere between 25 and 40 per cent means that attitudes are now very different.
Chinese developers have snapped up some of the larger waterfront sites in London. The Lots Road Power station in Chelsea is being developed by Hutchinson Whampoa with a couple of towers by the river, shops and restaurants in the old power station building and a series of bridges that link the two sides of the development along Chelsea Creek. The same developer is building the new Convoys Wharf at Deptford. Chinese developers Knight Dragon are building 15,000 homes at Greenwich Peninsula. Chinese developer Asian Business Port is constructing a new business park overlooking Royal Albert Dock.
But with Silvertown Quays only receiving planning permission last October and with Greenwich Peninsula on a 20 year development programme Bob Hoskins would have been alarmed to find out that it was going to take over fifty years to replace the docks and industry of the East End. If you’d told him that then you’d probably have ended up in the meat freezer.
First published in On Office magazine
The CAZ (Central Actitivity Zone) is to London what Manhattan is to New York. Its the bit most foreign visitors think of as London and it is where jobs, places of entertainment and amenities are most dense. Mayoral policies support the expansion of the CAZ on the basis that clustering is good for the growth of the knowledge-based and service economies. It also, of course, reflects the City of London’s role as the historic centre of the region to which all roads lead.
Rasmussen in his book ‘London the unique city’ called UK capital a ‘scattered city’; it is also known as a city of villages (so is Sydney) which suggests a certain deference to the densified core - a core that in recent years has been spreading outwards from the traditional centres of the West End and the City to Nine Elms, Paddington and Elephant and Castle.
But London is also a city of towns: places like Richmond, Redbridge, Walthamstow, Merton, Barking and Croydon. Or as the bus driver’s prayer goes “Our Farnham, who art in Hendon, Harrow be Thy name.Thy Kingston come; thy Wimbledon” all the way through to “for Esher and Esher, Crouch End”. Many of these towns are struggling economically, their high streets hit by the growing power of the internet; many of them have even been losing workspace because of the Government’s Permitted Development Rights legislation that allows offices to be converted to residential without planning permission.
At the same time new tech firms, creatives and start ups are moving out of London because they can’t find affordable workspace in Clerkenwell or Shoreditch. They disappear to Bristol, or Birmingham or even Berlin in search of cheaper accommodation when Barking or Barnet should be a better option.
As London’s population continues to grow (in spite of Brexit the demographers still say it will, although some commentators are starting to query the pace of this) we will need to densify London’s towns if we are to fit everyone inside the Green Belt. It is important that such future development is genuinely mixed use instead of the preponderance of residential that we have been seeing in recent years.
In Sadiq Khan’s new London Plan he must make sure that London’s towns provide employment space as well as places to live so that people can work close to home, reverse commute from the centre or travel orbitally. Because of London’s focus on the centre, the latter has always been the most difficult. The completion of the Overground circuit connecting such diverse centres as Dalston, Peckham Rye, Shepherds Bush and Gospel Oak has been transformational. But it’s not enough. We also need better orbital bus services - perhaps demand responsive services that can be ordered via an app like a large scale UberPool. Deputy Mayor for Transport Val Shawcross should roll out the Mini Holland cycling programme across London and ensure there are the appropriate links between boroughs.
Cedric Price conceived the city as an egg: the ancient city was a boiled egg - with a defined centre and a hard shell; the 17th and 18th century city lost its walls and had a more amorphous edge, so it was a fried egg. The modern city has multiple centres and is more like a scrambled egg.
As Mayor Khan defines his ‘City for All Londoners’ he should remember that the twenty first century metropolis is scrambled, not fried.
First published in On Office Magazine
First published in the Clerkenwell Post
Dutch architect/planner Jan Gehl’s triumphal appearance at the Hackney Empire in January following the showing of his film The Human Scale must have given heart to the thousands of cyclists who commute through Clerkenwell: maybe it is possible to envisage a city where the streets aren’t dominated by the deadly automobile.
Biking through London’s creative capital is at record levels - but you wouldn’t know that from the infrastructure. In Theobalds Road bikes make up 64 percent of vehicles in the morning peak, in Old Street it’s 49 per cent but the non-segregated bike lanes are scrappy, discontinuous and junctions are dangerous.
“Something must be done” said Andrea Casalotti, biking activist and former owner of the Velorution bike shop who can regularly be seen putting his vintage bikes through their paces on the Clerkenwell Road. So Andrea is campaigning for a 'Cycling Boulevard' from Old Street roundabout to Bury Place in Bloomsbury. The 2.7 km through-traffic-free boulevard would be mainly for bikes, buses and pedestrians.
It will be safer for people walking and cycling, faster for cyclists and bus passengers, air and noise pollution will be reduced and we will enjoy a much more pleasant environment. It will also be good for businesses - research in New York has shown that such changes are a boost for shops and restaurants
I was in Seville not long ago looking at their excellent cycling infrastructure. There, the central shopping street has been turned into a similar style boulevard - except they have trams instead of buses. And it works: the Avenida de la Constitucion is pleasant to walk in, bikes and pedestrians happily coexist and cafes line the street. One day perhaps Clerkenwellians will be able to enjoy a coffee in Look Mum No Hands and experience the same quality of life and place as the Sevillianas.
I heard this great story about Mike Davies of Rogers Stirk Harbour, a distinctive chap who wears his hair long and is never seen without a red suit. some years ago he was discussing a new job with Canary Wharf that they wanted to keep under wraps and so they asked him not to come in his signature whistle and flute for fear he be recognised. Davies agreed to break a habit of a lifetime, and duly turned up in canary yellow one. Apocryphal perhaps, but it highlights the practice’s interest in colour which has been a key element of Richard Rogers’ work ever since the built a bright yellow house for his parents in Wimbledon in the 1960s.
I was reminded of this recently when visiting the Matisse exhibition at Tate modern - the gallery was festooned with the primary colours of the artist’s famous cut-outs while outside Piers Gough’s 15 storey Bankside Lofts designed for Harry Handelsman (yellow again) seemed to sing along nicely with the multi coloured structure of RSH’s Neo Bankside apartments. Pity, I thought that Herzog and de Meuron were going for boring old brick on their Tate extension.
Then a walk across the river to the City to enjoy the undercroft space of RSH’s Leadenhall Building where you are greeted with huge nautical ventilation funnels in blue and red and, to the north, a whole facade of brightly coloured lifts speeding up and down in the world’s largest kinetic sculpture.
One of the most successful uses of colour by RSH is at Barrajas Airport where the columns of the kilometre long terminal building are coloured in a graduated rainbow - in stark contrast to the airports of Foster and Partners which tend to prefer the monochrome look and brings to mind a comment made by Alan Fletcher, Pentagram’s graphic designer who was doing the signage on Stansted Airport. Interviewed on television he showed his frustration over attempts to put a bit of colour into his work: “the problem with Norman is that he thinks grey is a bloody colour!” he exclaimed.
James Stirling of course liked lots of colour. Not far from the Leadenhall Building is No 1 Poultry with is deep blue tiled atrium walls and yellow, red and aquamarine reveals to the punched out windows. At this Staatsgalerie in Frankfurt huge hand rails of bright pink and blue lead the eye to lime green mullions of the sloped curtain walls. Some of his colour mixes took a bit of getting used to!
You have to be careful with colour. I’m a big fan of the work of Sauerbruch Hutton. Their GSW building in Berlin is a great building, and illustrates how colour can enliven a facade. But the idea has been recycled on too many low cost residential blocks in recent years where spattering coloured glass fins across a building seems to be used as a substitute for design and a mask for indifferent elevations.
But when properly integrated into the architecture it can be magical. David Walker’s design for Riverbank House in the City of London, overlooking the Thames is a great example of flamboyant but subtle use of colour, the yellow undersides of the balconies, slightly upturned so they can be enjoyed form the South Bank, seem to bring a bit of sun to the City even on the dullest days.
First published in On Office Magazine
Simon Jenkins in his Evening Standard review of Renzo Piano’s designs for The Cube at Paddington attacked the new proposals while repeating the hoary old chestnut about the arrogance of architects: “Paddington Pole may be dead but the vanity of architects lives on”. My first response was something along the lines of “pot” and “black”; my second was that he had got things wrong, again: parading personal taste as informed criticism.
Unlike Helmut Jahn who resigned from the Bishopsgate Tower in the City of London because of the interference of the planners, or Santiago Calatrava who did the same over City Point, Renzo Piano has been the epitome of humility, willingly agreeing to abandon his tower design for a more modest and minimal design.
Jenkins makes fun of the Architect’s Journal’s description of the “clear floating cube levitating above the ground” which he calls “tosh”. If anyone can make a building appear to float, it is Renzo. One wonders even whether Jenkins has studied the designs in any detail. He talks of “street-crushing decks and walkways” to describe the £60million improvements to the ghastly exit from Paddington station and its link to the Bakerloo line. Although he might well enjoy a certain nostalgie de la boue in the slum conditions that currently surround the station, that is not something commuters whose daily lot it is to fight their way up to a crumbling Praed Street have said they would prefer.
I do however agree that it would be appropiate to see this development in the context of the wider site. The Cube should be viewed as part of the wider regeneration of the St Mary’s Hospital site next door, as well as the taller buildings located around the east end of the Westway. This has had a cluster of towers since the 1960s and is an appropriate place for more. Westminster planners need to give local communities and Londoners generally a better idea of what the future holds for the area. The Skyline Campaign has suggested the building is out of scale with its surroundings, ignoring the fact that the scale of the whole area is changing and densifying as directed in the London Plan.
The proposals also need to be seen in a wider economic context. Seventy five percent of Westminster is covered conservation area. Five designated viewing corridors cross the borough constraining the location of higher buildings. Much of Westminster’s recent additional office capacity has been provided within Paddington because it is one of the few places where it is possible to provide the large floorplates corporate occupiers require.
While many of the protests over the Pole proposals came from the well heeled Little Venice and Kilburn area, much of the North West of the borough suffers significant deprivation and has been designated as an economic development area to encourage growth and jobs.
The Paddington Opportunity Area has been a key part of the Mayor’s London Plan since the days of Ken Livingstone. The Plan decreed that development should take place next to transport interchanges like Paddington. Central Westminster suffers badly already from congestion and overcrowding, so new offices that allow commuters to go straight from train to desk are to be welcomed.
Over the last five years Westminster has seen a significant loss of office space due to the greater profitablity of residential space. This has been exacerbated by Government policies on permitted development which allowed conversion of offices to residential without planning permission. While Westminster successfully applied for exception in the central area, the north west area of the borough had no such luck.
The Cube is not as Jenkins might believe, a product of developer greed or architectural arrogance, but as part of the wider strategy to provide jobs in a part of Westminster where many people are less well off than is often thought.
Architects have been dealing with security in buildings for centuries. Medieval cities were defined by their walls. Castles, some of our greatest early buildings. were predicated on the need for protection - castellation, drawbridges, turrets were part of the architectural language; in Italy and Spain ground floor windows were protected by elegant filigree ironwork. In London the railings of Georgian London, of houses and squares, are one of the great delights of the city. Today cities are crammed with the tools of the security services, yet they are disguised, hidden or ugly and utilitarian.
I first became aware of the impact that security could have on modern architecture - which throughout the 20th century had been celebrating openness, light and accessibility - when the 1972 Spence and Webster proposals for an extension to the Palace of Westminster, which included a large open public space beneath the raised up building, were abandoned because of fears that the IRA might blow it up.
Since then I have seen security play a larger and larger role in the design of buildings - from the obvious controls in the reception of office buildings to disguised bollards, blast proof glazing and things that no one without clearance even knows are there. But we have never really come to terms with how we deal with the problem in design terms.
Today the walls around the City of London and their iconic gates have been replaced by the ring of steel, a policeman in a plastic booth and multiple CCTV cameras connected to a central database. The Houses of Parliament are surrounded by hideous, temporary steel barriers. Just up the road in Whitehall these have been subtly integrated into stone balusters indistinguishable from their 18th and 19th century setting.
Plans for the land around the US Embassy in Nine Elms use that most discrete security device - the ha-ha, supplemented by a whole set of gizmos hidden in the reeds and grasses of the landscaping. It is a massive improvement on the grim fences and walls with which the US likes to surround their embassies in other cities. I went to a presentation on this very topic by one of the project managers of the Kieren Timberlake building, who was not at all amused by Wandsworth Planning Department’s insistence that the land surrounding the Embassy should connect with the local environment rather than turn its back on it.
Are security devices are either hidden - like in Whitehall and Nine Elms - because we cannot come to terms with the reality they represent? Are they temporary, as in Parliament Square, in the hope that the world will soon return to ‘normal’. Even security personnel are disguised, muscled men in tight executive suits politely stop you to check your credentials as you enter a city office block - in contrast, say, to the guards at Buckingham Palace whose role is made more obvious by their attire.
Should we, as in previous unstable times accept that insecurity is the norm and design for it - should we make the elements of security more obvious both as a deterrent and as something that expresses more honestly the world we live in?
While cycling with a group across the US, we stopped in Pierre, the capital of South Dakota. On Saturday morning we walked around the city and entered the State Capitol. There were no security guards, no barriers, no cctv. A place far from the political tensions of the rest of the world or indeed of the US itself. It brought home to us the restrictions and controls that we now live with and accept, yet try to disguise in the hope that the need for them will go away.
The NLA recently put on an exhibition and public meeting for Camden Council to assist them in their consultation programme on the ‘West End Project’ which will transform the area around our HQ at Store Street by removing the Tottenham Court Road/Gower Street gyratory in order to cater for the massive increase in people coming to the area when Crossrail opens in 2018.
The one-way system will be replaced with two-way streets, some protected cycle lanes in Gower Street, and new public spaces. Initial design work for the £26 million project has been carried out by DSDHA and includes turning Alfred Place, which runs north from NLA, from roadway into a small park. We hope that this will link into the work we have been doing ourselves to convert the Store Street Crescent into a public space. The temporary installation this year of (very convincing) plastic grass, as part of the London Festival of Architecture and the FitLondon exhibition, meant the space was packed each lunchtime with picnicking local workers highlighting the desperate need for such amenity in the area.
The changes to the roads in the area have been made more feasible by the 30 per cent reduction in traffic using Tottenham Court Road as a result of Crossrail construction activity. This has happened without undue impact on traffic flow in the area and traffic will remain at those levels after 2018. In Camden’s plans Tottenham Court Road will be restricted to buses and cycles between 8am and 7pm and Gower Street will be two way with separated cycle lanes in each direction.
This will transform the area, the racetracks of Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street will be tamed and public spaces will be improved. But not everyone is happy. Some cyclists don’t like the fact that there won’t be separated lanes in TCR; but the width of the road varies from 8m to 12m and there is just not enough road space to provide one traffic lane in each direction as well as 2m wide segregated cycle lanes in each direction. The Mayor’s cycling tzar Andrew Gilligan, who is keen on segregated lanes wherever possible, will be keeping a close eye on how well it works. UCL is concerned that Gower Street will be too busy and that the widened crossing outside their main campus isn’t enough to protect the thousands of student who cross the road daily. Local residents are unhappy with the increased cross traffic; taxi drivers want to be allowed to use TCR.
In London’s dense central activity zone such changes are frought with difficulty and perfection is impossible. I think these plans are transformational and fully support Camden’s enlightened approach. We have a long way to go before we get the right balance between various road users but this is a major step in the right direction. The work of the GLA’s Roads Task Force and TfL’s response, the new London Cycling Design Standards, all reinforce the fact that we must treat our streets as public spaces for all and not polluted death traps.