In the past two weeks, it seems all the big stories have been emerging from London: this week, the crowning tower of the City of London’s skyscraper cluster, a restrained design by Eric Parry Architects, was unveiled; last week, it was the Chelsea Stadium plans by Herzog & de Meuron that grabbed attention; and almost as if to demand attention for a brief that wouldn’t otherwise make headlines, at the start of the month Will Alsop’s aLL Design unveiled a characteristically outlandish residential tower in Vauxhall.
The resulting conversations from our readers touched on everything from the coherence of London’s future skyline to Will Alsop’s design lineage. Read on to find out what they had to say in the latest installment of our "ArchDaily Readers Debate" series.
Eric Parry’s Addition to the London Skyline
As the tallest building in the skyscraper cluster of London’s financial district, and less than 15 meters shorter than the Shard, Eric Parry Architects’ design for 1 Undershaft was bound to cause a stir. But while London is famed for its towers in all manner of bizarre shapes, 1 Undershaft offers a more sober, rectilinear approach to the tall building. The design attracted some criticism from commenters, with one calling it “too ugly to be true,” but it also had a contingent of cautious supporters:
“It’s not particularly exciting but perhaps that's a good thing. It seems to me that the London skyline lacks cohesiveness because every architect is looking to make a bold statement and do their own thing. This is at least more sober & respectful. I wouldn't call it a 'jewel in the crown.’” - chares brown
“I seem to be in a very small minority in liking this building. Its design plays off the Gherkin very well and creates a nice transition between the Gherkin and the other more rectangular buildings on its other side.” - Randy N. Gaston
“I actually like the fact that the building is plain and simple as a shape and a facade. However, its restraint does pose a problem of how it meets the sky and the ground. On a more practical matter, I have to wonder whether the tall facade will direct gusts of air into the plaza or sunken public space. The design is not sufficiently thought through. This is surprising as this architect has built some interesting buildings in the past. I hope the planners ask him (and ultimately the client) to improve the design and spend a bit more money and effort resolving the top and base of the building.” - Gemini
With regard to the wind problems, a recent article in the Guardian does refer to an area of the design that has been designated for an “artist’s wind-baffle commission,” so while this aspect is not yet resolved it is something that is in development. But for many other questions about the design it’s worth remembering:
“They're unresolved pre-planning renders, I'd imagine (hope) there's more work to be done. The glazing looks very generic and I'm not sure how much work the truss structure does to hold up the building.” - Pretendgineer
The New Chelsea Stadium by Herzog & de Meuron
Herzog & de Meuron’s design for Chelsea FC’s new stadium was finally revealed last week, after a year of teasing glimpses shown at public consultation meetings. The design was universally praised by our readers, although the released images did still leave some readers still wanting more:
“It's like a Victorian industrial hulk with a modern parametric form, I'm intrigued. Much better than a typical bland plastic bowl. Some views of the inside to see how the aesthetic approach carries through would be good.” - Rav
“I hate to say it, but they are good. Except maybe those blue slab sides on the inner arcades view, it all kicks ass. I hope bricks will get a bigger role than mere ornament though.” - bibi
Looking at the building’s plans on the Hammersmith & Fulham planning portal (thanks to commenter LS for the link!) it seems that the stadium effectively has two structural systems: a highly rational, standardized system supporting the circulation spaces, stands and roof with a thin layer around the edge of hospitality areas, staircases and entrances, which appear to be supported by the brick piers seen in the renders. We might therefore infer two things in response to Rav and bibi’s comments: that the bricks do have a non-ornamental role, even if it is secondary to the main structure; and that the external aesthetic will probably not carry through to the inner areas of the stadium all that well.
Stefano Boeri Takes Responsibility for the Abandoned Sea Pavilion
Our publication of Stefano Boeri Architetti’s 2009 Sea Pavilion included a 2014 video from the Venice Biennale by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine, in which Boeri revisits the pavilion, now abandoned and falling to pieces as a result of the project’s political background. Boeri states “I don’t want to hide the fact that I’ve been an active participant in an affair that, up to now, has been a big failure,” an attitude that HeywoodFloyd saw as admirable:
“Refreshing to see the architect maintain his ownership in the creation of the project despite such daunting bureaucratic BS. Most big name architects would have just thrown their hands in the air, issued a press release blaming the client, and then moved onto the next vanity project. Nice work Mr. Boeri.” - HeywoodFloyd
We couldn't agree more, and in light of this refreshing approach, here’s that video again for those who missed it:
Will Alsop: The Last Architect of the 60s?
The latest example of Will Alsop’s characteristic pop-futurist style attracted predictable ridicule from most commenters, a sentiment that was perhaps expressed most succinctly by Richard Brinton:
“This has the look of a futuristic styled comic book illustration rather than a building inspired by London for Londoners. I despair the more some attempts to be contemporary the more the outcome resembles hackneyed illustrations of 70s comics.” - Richard Brinton
However, another commenter raises the idea that perhaps Alsop’s design is more self-aware than he’s given credit for:
“Just another provocative project of Will Alsop. It still works though, given the comments of the above conservative petit bourgeois architects. But it is still playful, amorphous, plastic, doesn’t contain any rhetoric beside the fun; an heir of his mentor Cedric Price and his predecessors Archigram. The last architect of the 60s.” - V.
This take brings more nuance to the table regarding the work of Will Alsop; however perhaps the question now becomes: is there any space left for an architect of 1960s spirit in 2010s London?
The Real Motivation for Preservation
Following on from a conversation two weeks ago about the purpose of preservation, a number of readers questioned my article’s statement that preservation should - and in theory does - react not to aesthetic quality, but historical importance:
“The cold logic of official preservation criteria has some merit, but it is also totally out of step with the real reasons that preservation is supported by the public when it is, which are always emotional or aesthetic. I don't believe that professional advisers are immune either; "Statements of Significance" often have a trumped-up quality to them, where the square peg of subjective response has obviously been rammed into the round hole of official criteria. I write this from an Australian perspective, but I'm sure this tension is universal. I myself tend to regard value primarily from an aesthetic perspective, and the tension between that and my political perspective will I'm sure not be resolved until I am in the ground.” - Evan
I think this is a very interesting point, and one of the key challenges of preservation. In my estimation, it’s not such an issue if an unimportant building is deemed aesthetically attractive enough to keep - but when a significant yet “ugly” building is slated for demolition, the preservation organizations need to step up to the plate and make their case all the more forcefully. Perhaps as Evan implies, this tension will never be resolved.
Another interesting result of the conversation was one reader who suggested an entirely new architectural business opportunity:
“Correcting ‘bad’ design may be a new field of current design. Perhaps a historical building is given credits (tax, planning?) for keeping the features that make it important while allowing it's ‘bad’ functional aspects to be corrected, especially in the case of a building Owner being forced to preserve it because the community deems it important.” - Eric
All I can say is that’s a fascinating idea, and could be one of the most interesting developments in the history of adaptive reuse. Now, if only we could get the politicians on board...
Keep the debate flowing! Please post any responses to these topics in the comments below.