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

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Behold! The Nine Elms nightmare is becoming reality – and someone's put their foot in it


Nothing like a bit of public art to add the sheen of quality to the latest ghetto of luxury flats: but does Simon Fujiwara's colossal foot have a message for the wealthy occupants of the surrounding apartment blocks?
After years of watching the Battersea-Nine Elms development as it gradually blocked our views and filled our homes with dust,  there's now a little bit of this new heaven on earth that is more or less finished, so now we can see for ourselves what all the fuss has been about.

It's right in the middle of the two or more square miles of building sites that stretch from Battersea Park to Vauxhall Cross. As you ride west down Nine Elms lane, past the old New Covent Garden market and the commercial estates, you come to a small patch of wild grasses, very lush, and right in the middle of it is the sign, Embassy gardens.

This area, smartly abbreviated by its developer to Eg, will be the serious heart of the whole Nine Elms developments, even more so than Battersea Power Station. It will have both US and Dutch embassies. It will have super-luxury flats with walk-in access to the well-hyped "Sky Pool" (a glass bottomed swimming pool suspended between the  10th floors of two apartment blocks).

In the background you see the bulky cuboid building which looks like it might be the new US embassy.
A few yards further on you find the essential markers of any new luxury urban development: some obscure and  expensive-looking public art, and a lovely great big brand spanking new Waitrose supermarket.

The art is curious: a colossal disembodied foot, which seems to have trodden on a sharpened wedding ring before being violently removed form its unfortunate owner. This piece, called Modern Marriage 2015, is by a well-known artist, Simon Fujiwara.

It's not clear what it's made of: marble? No. Concrete? Maybe. Plastic? Most likely - it has that bland, smooth look as though it had come out of a 3D printer. One struggles to find  meaning in this piece: it definitely seems to be a warning, but a warning of what? Wedlock? The mind boggles.

A bit further on, between the Waitrose block and the next block, is what a first sight looks like a huge tin turd on the ground, or a massive discarded party balloon of the type used by The Mask to create balloon-poodles.

 Look again, it's a giant vegetable - possibly a courgette or cucumber, or maybe even a gherkin? Well, actually, it's a marrow, rather a skinny one, and it's in fact a bit of a tribute to the fruit and veg traders using the New Covent Garden market down the road. The artist is even more famous - Sarah Lucas, one of the Sensation YBAs, well known for shocking the establishment with fried eggs, frozen chickens, etc.


This piece? Well, it's lovely, made of bronze, ever so expensive. Very shiny, nice reflections.

Impressive.

It turns out there's a third piece of sculpture somewhere around here - but it wasn't immediately obvious where. This area had been designated as a "Destination by design" sculpture park by the developers of the Embassy Gardens area, The Ballymore Group.

The installation was curated by Norman Rosenthal, late of the RA, and apparently there will eventually be six permanent works there.


This is just across the road from the first completed residential area, the Riverlight development,  a set of six trapezoid blocks, about 12 to 15 storeys high.  These buildings sit like a wall or some sort of defensive barrier, a gigantic tank-trap, all
Riverlight apartments: this is a real photo, not a computer-generated architect's wet dream….
 along the river. For some reason they are colour-coded with bright green, yellow, orange, red and mauve panels. They're not particularly ugly, just brash and a bit silly, like those semi-finished holiday apartment blocks you see all along the coastline of southern Spain. Or those lurid green and orange office blocks, so dismal in their total lack of any interesting qualities,  that have ruined the area between St Giles and New oxford Street, these from the distinguished architectural practice of Renzo Piano

According to the Nine Elms  developers, these apartments are now all sold, but there's very little sign of the proud new owners. Of course it's too early in the day: they'll all be at their desks in the City or Canary Wharf.

Walking up the stone-paved "street" between these blocks you get the feeling you're actually in one of those computer simulated images so beloved of property developers: it's all so clean and new and shiny!

But instead of the glamorous young yuppies in their yoga pants and Hugo Boss suits there are pairs of builders and surveyors in hi-vis jackets on their fag break.

They blocks - described in the developer's blurb as "pavilions" - are all ranged north-south, apparently to maximise access to the views across to Chelsea and Westminsters enjoyed by the occupants. Unfortunately, for everyone else living along the Wandsworth Road corridor,  these buildings are now the view, where once we could also see Westminster.

 Oh well.

Move just a little further west and there's a big hoarding around what used to be the massive Royal Mail south London depot, which was itself partly built on the old gas works. This area, according to one of those helpful boards put up by developers, is undergoing "remediation" by the BAM Nuttall group. It will eventually be a lovely park and …err….some more flats.

Remediation is a not a word I'd been familiar with, but when I look it up in the Merriam Webster dictionary, I have a "duh" moment. It is of course "the act or process of remedying" something - especially making something undesirable, desirable, or something unsafe, safe.

Squinting through the dirty plastic window so thoughtfully provided, you see mountains of
churned-up mud, some of it presumably polluted by all those old gas-making chemicals. It might make a good track for mountain biking or dry skiing.

So that's it. There are a couple of "streets" you can walk down,  a bit of grass, and all surrounded by many square kilometres of mud, dust, rubble and skeletal skyscrapers in waiting. And the massive trucks rushing up and down Nine Elms lane all day long.

Keep on trucking, as they used to say.

In fact, would you mind not keeping on trucking, please?






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