Friday, 2 April 2010

Outrage on Cheapside

When The Prince of Wales criticised the proposed design of a new building by Jean Nouvel in Cheapside, which runs between St Paul's and the Bank of England in London, he himself faced the usual storm of criticism from vested interests in the architectural profession.  But looking at this picture of the new building, with its unrelenting smoked glass facade stretching towards Wren's Church of St Mary-le-Bow like a 1970s coffee table set on its side, who would say that the Prince's judgement has been other than vindicated?

The same view in 1890 (left) and five years ago. Click on images for a larger version.

As Gavin Stamp said in The Guardian in August last year, 'the scandal is not that the Prince of Wales suggested that an overrated posturing French modernist was the wrong person to design a close neighbour to St Paul's. The scandal is that the preceding building on the site was allowed to be demolished. New Change Buildings by Victor Heal, built on blitzed land in 1953-60, was a stodgy but well-made classical design which made no attempt to upstage Wren. It was faced in fine red brick and Portland stone, enriched with high-quality sculpture, and deserved listing. It could easily have been modernised by an intelligent architect. Instead, at the height of the City's boom, when its neophiliac planners said yes to anything, New Change was razed – a colossal waste of resources. Nouvel's arrogant, irrational, vulgar replacement will be seen as the perfect expression of the greed and profligacy of the City'.

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