Monday, May 28, 2007

Egos "a threat to skylines"

Using Google News I recently subscribed to be sent updates about articles containing Walkie Talkie London so that I might be the third to know the outcome of the planning inquiry for 20 Fenchurch Street. No news yet, but what is interesting is that 'Walkie Talkie' has become a byword for all argument about London architecture, in much the same way that Bin Laden is a byword for bearded terrorists, and Brian Blessed performs the same function for all other bearded people.

A particularly vituperative and entertaining read picked out of the inter-ether by its mentioning Walkie Talkie is this Guardian interview with new English Heritage Chief Simon Thurley, evocatively titled 'Egos "a threat to skylines"'. It's very short, so I recommend reading it in full, but here are a few choice nibbles.

'We have been treading a very difficult path over the past five years, trying to balance the absolute necessity to protect and preserve and conserve with...
... with the need to have a living city which provides employment for its citizens?
... with the absolute necessity to convince people that that activity is not holding the country back in some way,' he says.
Oh. So, you're more talking about the internal distribution of funds between activism and PR. What a broad perspective this new guy at English Heritage has.
'It is an expression of a small number of individuals' extraordinary ambition and desire to create a monument to themselves,' he argues,
I think not. The architects in question are generally chosen by the developers who commission the buildings as they are already world renowned, with plenty of other 'monuments to themselves' dotted around the globe. It's far more to do with London firms, and increasingly government, wanting the city to appear modern and world-class. A nebulous aim if ever there was one, but reducing it to individual egos is hardly the right outlook.
he does go on to admit that these forces were also at work when Salisbury Cathedral or St Pancras station went up. The situation in the 21st century is more hazardous though, he believes.
He is indeed a skilled rhetorician, using the immensely sophisticated 'but that was different' argument.
Do we want London to be defined by a massive residential tower belonging to a foreign national who has bought it as an investment? Is that how we want London to be defined? My answer to that is no.'
a) Lots of people live in London. Why shouldn't its most significant building be residential? Buckingham Palace is residential. Should we put a big police banner across it saying 'Move along. Nothing to see here'. OK, so Buckingham palace is inhabited by important people, but why limit grand residential buildings to just them?
b) Mmm. Foreign nationals are pretty bad aren't they, and should have no involvement in the construction of city landmarks. Take Monsieur Eiffel for instance - completely ruined the New York skyline with that big statue. And good architecture is often the result of cross-polination of differenrt architectural heritages. St Paul's - with it's strong Italian look -is a classic example.
c) Wake up Mr. Thurley, and stop being so naive. Most buildings are bought as investments, and this is no criteria for judging the worthiness of constructing them.
d) No single building - no matter how big - can define a city. As head of English Heritage he really should have more confidence in the iconic status of many of the capital's existing buildings.
Thurley hopes the work of English Heritage can 'finally slay the dragon of the so-called 'dead hand' of conservation. Conservation is not a dead hand. It is a living hand. It is not about the past, it is about the future,' he said.
And you, sir, are a buffoon!

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