There Goes the Neighborhood

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A couple of developments in the world of big bad buildings.

Prince Charles, heir to the throne of Britain and sometime architecture commentator, is complaining again about the way London is shaping up. Charles’ taste runs to the traditional, the nostalgic and anything by Leon Krier. The last time he got seriously involved in an architectural battle in London, in 1984, he called Richard Rogers’ proposed addition to the National Gallery “a monstrous carbuncle”. That helped get the Rogers proposal shelved in a favor of the much more deferential addition by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown that was eventually built.

It was Rogers — now Lord Rogers, Pritzker-prize winner and chief architectural adviser to the Mayor of London — whom Charles was after again last week when he gave a speech denouncing the concentration of new skyscrapers in “the City”, the financial center where Norman Foster’s Gherkin also rises. One of those is a still incomplete Rogers’ building, 122 Leadenhall Street, that people are calling “the cheese grater” because of its tall wedge shape. Charles wants tall towers in London confined to the area around Cesar Pelli’s Canary Wharf development. (A development that’s surprisingly lively even after work, with a very happy pub crowd — this is after all the U.K. — and new restaurants along the riverbank.)

pritzker07_10.jpg122 Leadenhall Street/ Richard Rogers/ © 2007 ROGERS STIRK HARBOUR + PARTNERS

Charles’ attack on Rogers’ new building — all 44 stories/737 feet of it — is completely misguided. The wedge design was chosen partly to preserve vital (and protected by law) sight lines from Fleet Street to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Because of the tapering silhouette, it actually has a relatively small floor area for a building of its size.

But I would not be so quick to dismiss Charles’ larger concerns about a concentration of tall buildings in the City, where several others are planned, and which is the same area where there’s a precious archipelago of churches by Wren and Hawksmoor. Charles warns of a world in which they’re dwarfed by a robot army of massive towers and he has a point. That world is not exactly upon us yet, but his intention is obviously to push London to rethink how it grants permissions to build in that part of town.

The irony here is that at least a few of the new towers being planned or built in London, which was stuffed with bad modern architecture in the post war era and beyond, are some of the most promising proposals the city has seen for years. But I’d hate to see the day when those Wren churches start looking like the little Greek Orthodox chapels you run across in Athens that are swallowed by massive modern garbage on all sides.

In related news — not even a year after the opening of Seattle’s new sculpture park, a new 14 story condo is scheduled to go up just yards away. The developer says the Seattle Art Museum, which created the park, is crazy about his scheme. “This is a big love fest,” he says. Is that the polite term for forced marriage? Via.

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