Sunday, 21 March 2010

Hubris in the City

Among the finest buildings of any period in the City of London are those by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a Mannerist master who knew how to refresh classicism, having developed an implicit understanding of its rules. On his Midland Bank building at Poultry, for example, pilasters are reduced to attenuated bases and capitals, something that might look illiterate on a Po-Mo building but which in Lutyens' hands simply looks like the fluent manipulation of a complex language.

Several Lutyens buildings survive, but in one or two instances it has been a close-run thing. The picture here, showing another Midland Bank building but this time in Leadenhall, opposite Rogers's Lloyd's building, is most interesting not for what it shows of Lutyens' art but for what it shows of attempts to get rid of it.

The thin dark band on the side of the building, at the back just above ground floor level, is all that is left of an aerial pedway, or elevated pedestrian walkway, that jutted out from the next door building.

When this adjoining building was put up in the 1960s, a network of elevated walkways was planned across the City of London and planners required developers to include them in new buildings. Naturally, the result was a lot of dead-end walkways in mid-air, where adjoining sites had yet to be redeveloped.

In a way you have to admire the confidence behind this policy, and the chutzpah that sees a fine building like Lutyens' as something that interrupts a social experiment - but only a temporary interruption of course, until the march of progress sweeps it away. Nowadays, with aerial pedways seeming as dated as men on the moon and a new set of urban management cliches in place, it is of course the Lutyens building that has survived and the neighbouring building, with its presumptuous projecting pedway, that has gone.      

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