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Thursday24 July 2014

The Walkie-Talkie is sending out a disturbing message

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The City’s most recent arrival highlights the need for a better balance between the needs of developers and our urban landscape

Amanda Baillieu

Amanda Baillieu — editor in chief

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.

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Readers' comments (13)

  • It was always a terribly ugly design...

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  • You may recall that there already was a tall building on this site before the Walkie Talkie, so it's not something new. The original design of the Walkie Talkie was much sleeker and elegant, but English Heritage insisted on a height reduction which resulted in the current design. In any event, this building will have a free public space at the top, which will no doubt be popular.

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  • It is a shame that we cannot have a considered balance between heritage and modernity in the UK, rather than jumping between polemics.

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  • As housing is so desperately needed, and new office space is not, why not convert some of it to flats?

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  • Quote "Now that it’s almost built, we can see that English Heritage was right. The building is oppressive and ugly"

    Er, some of us could have told you that long before i t was built. It's London's latest embarassingly bad building. And there are lots more to come.

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  • Yeah it's probably the ugliest skyscraper, and by some distance too I think!

    There's a reason most tall buildings taper towards the top - it looks nice. This building fattens towards the top, and there's no aesthetic reason for this, it's purely about maximising floor space, to amplify the small plot of land the developer has. Nowadays it's not enough to maximise your floor space by building tall, now you must also fatten. A dangerous precedent?

    The impact on the views of London are huge. I'm not talking about a few thousand people who see the London skyline from Primrose Hill. I'm talking about the millions who view it from the nearby bridges of Westminster, Golden Jubilee, Waterloo, Millenium, Blackfriars. From these positions the Walkie Talkie has a terrible impact on St Pauls and the collectivity of the rest of the skyline. A bulbous oblong, its jaringly isolated and out of kilter with the other skyscrapers. From the bridges, the Shard is quite out of the way on the right side but this building is slap bang in the middle of your view. The Shard may be taller but at least it's elegant with it. The Walkie Talkkie though is a teletubby tower, a childs mess of a building.

    It's the impact on the river which most upsets me though. The building sits there, with its human visor face staring at the river. It's like the river has become a prop, a mere plaything, accosted for the purpose of entertaining this new mr eminence of a building. Urgh! It's so wrong its just embarassing to the public and to London's world image.

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  • The building is so offensive it makes me cry for London and all the places it wrecks. What we need to do is change its nickname (which is out of date anyway, who knows what a walkie talkie is?). I suggest The Cudgel or The Bludgeon.

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  • amanda baillieu

    Scepticalaboutthewholething |
    You are rather missing the point - It wasn't me who said that. It was EH at the public inquiry. No one believed it, least of all Hazel Blears, who said it would be a wonderful addition to the London skyline. I always thought it was a mistake and should never have been given planning . Amanda

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  • Well I like it and am looking forward to it being finished I work quite close to it. There are far more banal and boring buildings in the city this is something a little different. Add to an ever increasing and interesting skyline.

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  • zecks_marquise

    Ok so Carbuncle 2013 is sorted, but who cares? I'm off to solve world poverty by tricking city investors into helping me build the tower of babel

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