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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Shell Centre plans take the glass box virus further east

Having been moaning about "Nine Elms disease" for months now as those dreary blocks of half-built flats gradually create a screen-wall along the Battersea to Vauxhall riverside, I was saddened to read the same thing is about to happen right at the heart of south bank - the old Shell Centre by Waterloo.

Ok, so I am a year behind the times on this - but alerted to it by a rather brilliant letter in today's Evening Standard, written by one George Turner, headlined, "These flats are part of the crisis".

As was clear a year ago, Lambeth's approval for this development of eight new towers surrounding the old Shell centre was hugely controversial. All the familiar arguments are made: you almost sympathise with the guy from Westminster who is worried about the impact on the view from St James's Park.

Turner's letter points out that the "luxury" factor in these developments is generally a sham. The flats themselves are not very different from the council blocks of the 1960s. But of course these too are now selling at massive prices.

What's really vile about this and  dozens of other recently-approved riverside housing developments is the utterly dismal, utterly cynical mediocrity of the architecture. I never much liked the Shell Centre but to see the cgi images of the proposed scheme is to see a rather dull city gent of the 1950s in a drab but beautifully crafted Saville Row suit surrounded by a gang of spivvy estate agents wearing Mr Byrite's finest Hugo Boss homage circa 1985.

The buildings just look cheap and nasty - as do so many of the apartments being sold "off plan" in the property pages these days, often before the first sod of inner-city soil is ripped out of the cold London ground. Just look at this unsurprising but miserable story from Loughborough Junction, a little further south.

The buildings, as with the stuff that has already ruined the south bank of the Thames from Battersea Bridge most of the way to Putney, are a sort of collective smirk, a vile grin on the faces of the types who can afford to buy a big property with a river view, their curving balconies jutting out from the towers like so many fat city-boys' beef-bellies after a particularly bloated champagne supper.

Actually, as this letter points out, the people who buy these flats probably never have to set eyes on them; they just pocket the inflated rents or the profit when they sell them on.

Also very recently,  another very much more distinguished voice (than mine, that is) has spoken out against the south bank blight of glass and steel: Peter Rees, architect and former chief  planner for the City of London.

Speaking at the RSA, he said these high-rise developments were not necessary, inefficient and did not provide the true high-density housing London needs.

"The idea of dotting them (skyscrapers) all along the river from Bermondsey to Battersea is absolutely awful and it's ruining London."

He refers to "skyscrapers" and this is where I differ - if any of these lumps could be truly called a skyscraper I might just about excuse them, at least there might be some excitement. But the only one anywhere near that is the St George's Tower and that is the dreariest tall building We've ever suffered in this country. It's tall but it is so boring, so ugly, that you don't care - no wonder an unfortunate helicopter hit the thing last year.

Then again, Peter Rees is also the guy who must have rubber-stamped the walkie-talkie. Good story on his speech here at the London SE1 Community Website.

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