Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


London's Ugliest Buildings



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London isn't a beautiful city in the classical sense. It's more an agglomeration of unorganised stuff. It's more a two thousand year draft of a city, with rewrites to plot, characters and events scrawled all over its terrain.

It's a city where your state of mind is as important as the physical fabric. For example many of London's now extortionally expensive houses - homes to bankers and lawyers - were once classified as slums - earmarked for demolition. Writers have not only written London into their narratives, but have also impacted on its body (in Dickens' case though highlighting the inner-city slums). Does this mean that London's organisation is mostly imaginary? And if so, shouldn't writers like Peter Ackroyd, Iain Sinclair, or JG Ballard be candidates for head of the Architecture and Urbanism Unit at the GLA?

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So many London buildings move from 'ugliness' to 'beauty' through changes in attitude over time. Many of the ugliest buildings are assimilated, becoming part of the cities narrative - just as its population absorbs waves of immigration over hundreds of years enriching London's grand narrative.

Having said that, there are some right architectural howlers. Take the Nat West Tower - it's the logo of a bank extruded skywards - that's a pretty ugly concept - however excused by its ridiculousness and its facile commercial brutalism (reminiscent of a Chicago album cover designed by the Smithsons). There are places like the Elephant and Castle - massive modernist conglomerations of traffic planning and housing that certainly lack genteel appeal. Even here though there is a lingering utopian vision. The cities arteries snake around housing like a Futurist choreography. It may be ugly, but at least it meant well.

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Ugliness however, isn't an aesthetic. It's about a mean-ness, a lack of generosity. In urban planning terms a grabbing of public resource for private gain. And there are two candidates for this crown, both on the stretch of riverfront from Vauxhall to Wandsworth: St George Wharf ("22 stories designed amid majestic gull-wing roofs and stylish terraces. Set amongst landscaped courtyards that sweep to the waters edge") and Battersea Reach ("a dramatic series of waterfront buildings that cascade towards the river's edge, spacious contemporary apartments and penthouses offer panoramic views across the Thames or the Wandsworth skyline") - both from developer St George.

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These are yuppie ghettos, bought off-plan on the back of buy-to-let mortgages. Designed from the brochure outwards they bristle with balconies that rubber-neck the river.

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It's not their venal maxing out of volume or limit-of-the-envelop massing that's the problem. Or the crashing together of economic circumstance (cheap loans, post-industrial rehabilitation, exponential rise in property value). It's the fact that it tries to look nice. That it does 'architectural' things (a touch of modernism, a little dash of High Tech, a dose of Pomo). It's these buildings restraint; their desire to please that is so despicable. They capture an anemic, generic marketing led reductiveness. If James Blunt were a building, he'd be these. If they were food, they'd be served on airlines. They are like penthouse perfect versions of 19th century rookeries where chardonnay replaces typhoid-riddled water.

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"The design brief for St George Wharf was challenging: Create a thriving Thames riverside community worthy of its place amongst some of Europe's most spectacular landmarks. The views would be breathtaking. The shimmering architectural aesthetic, interior detailing and landscaping would be the same.
Today, more than five years later, our vision has reached the 5th stage of completion. Every evening, new residents marvel at their new twilight vista." So say Broadway Malyan, the architects brave enough to have their involvement advertised on the front of the St George website, as though remisicing with satisfaction over some kind of significant contribution to mankind.

Read on to find fictions of your own possible near future: "Owning a luxurious apartment or penthouse is just the start of the adventure. As a St George Wharf resident, you will be part of a sophisticated, cosmopolitan living environment. Imagine: outside, a series of landscaped courtyards sweep out to the river's edge with a 275m promenade, for residents and public alike. Tranquil courtyards echo to the gentle sound of fountains. Stylish bistros, cafes and shops around the piazza provide an irresistible excuse to simply sit, talk or watch the world go by. A health and fitness studio is planned for the future."

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With a scenario written like this, someone needs to check that JG Ballard hasn't indeed been installed behind a desk the A+U unit, approving developments most likely to end in yuppie carnage.

The buildings - named with watery-heritage - swim in 'high quality' public space where it is impossible to imagine anything ever happening.

It's the fact these are monsters that have no idea of their own self. What is more terrible - the idea that developers are trying to hoodwink the entirety of public life? Or the fact that this is honestly an attempt to make sense of contemporary living? These are perversions of Richard Rogers 1980s plea for Thames-side urbanism. It's enough to make him spin in his grave even though he's still very much alive.

Quite frankly, these buildings are fucking insults. They are an anathema to a London that spans from Handle to Hendrix, Inigo Jones to Steve Jones, kebabs to kings, the M25 to the Mall, suburbia to Soho.

Of course, this early 21st century ugliness will one day become rewritten as late 21st century beauty, though quite what twists and turns in London's plot will precipitate this are hard to imagine. If you are in for the long term and an urban pervert, why not visit the marketing suites: Monday - Friday, 10-8. Weekends 10-6. +44 (0)207 978 4141.



Posted by anothersam at April 4, 2007 10:39 PM.

1 Comments

Rick said:

Hmmm. You really don't like this developer. What would you have done with the remaining Effra site in the context of Farrell's Spooksville? Moreover, given the potential of the site what alternative was there? Altruistic billionaire constructs Europe's largest homeless shelter from disused cold storage warehouse? (While obviously at the same time showing sensitivity to the beautiful 70's and 80's brick developments on both sides of the river). I live in St George Wharf, and I love it. As far as yuppie ghettos go, I work for the NHS and don't know my FTSE from my NASDAQ. I don't have a cheap loan, and I hate James Blunt. To me (and I'm afraid I have only an A-level in art and a casual interest in architecture, so maybe my opinions are valueless... then again it's all pretty subjective isn't it?) these buildings look bold and sleek. The location is awesome - it's central but also quiet, and my girlfriend feels safe at night. Best of all I go to sleep looking out over London's most spectacular natural landmark. Maybe that's the solution to your troubles - if you lived here you could look out of the development rather than into it? At least you have the number for the marketing suite...

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More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

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Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

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Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

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The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

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Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

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Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

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The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

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Church of the Ascension and Descension

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Bat House Competition

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Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

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Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

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Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

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Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

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Winning Design

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Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

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Its All About the Big Benjamins

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