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

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Keybridge House, Vauxhall - London's worst eyesore or a brutalist beauty?

As so often happens, I'm listening to the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London and hear something that propels me out of the house to look a for something mentioned by one of his guests.

Last week it was 575 Wandsworth Road. Yesterday it was a tower block at Vauxhall which Elms' "Listed Londoner" for the week, artist David Hepher, chose as his favourite building.

Hepher is famous for painting massive photorealist canvasses of some the bleakest of London's council estates, so it was no surprise he should choose an anonymous tower block from the brutalist era. He did not know  what it was called or what is was for - he just liked it for its uncompromising industrial presence. He said he it reminded him of big grain silos in France - obviously a good thing. This made
Eyesore or brutalist gem? Ex-BT office block,
Keybridge House, Vauxhall.
me think he must be talking about the empty BT building, Keybridge House, on South Lambeth Road.

It really is a horrible building - so horrible that it exerts a grim fascination. Maybe it could even be beautiful.  Look harder, look again. This is definitely the purest bit of concrete and steel brutalism in south London. There are no real clues outside as to what this building was for, apart from the dull name. It was easy to  imagine it being some grim outpost of the intelligence services, somewhere hooded victims would be bundled into for some government-sanctioned extraction of information.

 There was no real entrance visible at street level, and the only vehicle access was guarded by huge terrorist-proof steel barriers. Razor-wire topped steel fencing surrounded the place, which looms its heavy steel-clad 15 or so storeys over a perfectly innocent primary school next door.

Turns out its not some sinister back annexe of the flash MI6 block over by the bridge, but a former BT office block.  A useful Guardian article from 2007 provides plenty of background on the building and its architects, G W Mills and Associates. Now it seems it has been sold and according to the Evening Standard is likely to be pulled down as part of the Nine Elms redevelopment.

The place looks so solid, so armour plated, that you imagine it would be a great challenge for demolition championships.

But what of poor David Hepher? He needs to get on his bike like I did and start painting soonest!