Tangential comments about Software Development

Saturday, January 21, 2006

New / Change / Nouvel : Pun your own headline

Just East of St Paul's Cathedral is a red brick building, shortly to become a building site, then to become Britain's first building by Jean Nouvel.

It's an interesting test case of what constitutes a building worth keeping, and when the combination of a "starchitect" and a commercial property developer is likely to do the city any good.

My bias is that in 2002 I schlepped over to Switzerland for Expo.02. In the town of Morat, in the middle of the lake, was a massive iron cube. You queued to get on the boat out to this cube, and then had three panoramic experiences on three different levels. Stunning, and a credit to Monsieur Nouvel.

The red-brick New Change Buildings (built 1953-1960) by Victor Heal have their detractors. "Regrettable ... silly little semi-period balconies ... sculpture as retardataire as the architecture" says Nikolaus Pevsner in the 1962 edition of The Buildings of England : London.

Instead we get 220,000 sqft of "retail destination" which Land Securities promises us will "create a vibrant commercial hub for this important City community". The buildings are not high - six floors - but they are designed to get plenty of floorspace for shops and offices.

On balance, I'm content that the Heal building will go. I've watched the City being filled in with so many really bad blocks, this one might be a little better. We are told that there will be rooftop public space - I would appreciate that if it is more public than, say, the garden on Stirling's One Poultry.

I just don't expect a building of real quality. We won't get an Institut Monde Arabe.

Land Securities press release
Jean Nouvel and the Morat Monolith