The Walkie-Talkie is sending out a disturbing message
The City’s most recent arrival highlights the need for a better balance between the needs of developers and our urban landscape
This week City of London chief planner Peter Wynne Rees claimed that Canary Wharf was no more than a pressure valve caused by greedy bankers who demanded more space than they needed. If Lehman Brothers took a million square feet, their rivals had to have the same. But if Rees is right and demand has halved, it leaves a question mark over Canary Wharf and its acres of dealing floors.
The other battle that Rees has fought so assiduously for 25 years has been against the heritage lobby. You can only take so much heritage until the ship sinks, he said this week.
In the nineties and even the noughties this was an argument embraced by Cabe and architects including Richard Rogers and Norman Foster — all of whom supported 20 Fenchurch Street, otherwise known as the “Walkie-Talkie”.
Those that defended it were always on rather slippery ground. But it was a product of an era when towers and big-name architects represented progress.
Now that it’s almost built, we can see that English Heritage was right. The building is oppressive and ugly, overwhelming not just the riverside, but its historic landscape. And, even more than the Shard, it’s in the wrong place.
But how can an architect achieve the balance between serving the needs of the client and the public who have to suffer buildings they don’t want?
Ken Shuttleworth, who is designing a headquarters for UBS in Broadgate, sides with Rees.
If knocking a building down makes money, creates jobs and drives more UK investment, it’s a good thing, he argues.
But is the tide turning? Save Britain’s Heritage this week commissioned a new plan that would retain Smithfield Market’s wonderful Victorian buildings.
Alternative schemes are nothing new, of course, and the demolition argument on its own is too simple. The real debate is what are we building and why. It didn’t stop the Walkie-Talkie but it might save Smithfield.