A vast office and retail building is rising next to St Paul's Cathedral, set to "transform the City into a seven-day shopping and leisure destination with a difference". A friend in the trade told me the story:
The site was up for redevelopment (why? it looked grand as it was). Certain constraints apply around the Cathedral to prevent buildings competing with it for height and attention. So, in flies French celebrity architect Jaques Nouvel. He bursts into the office of the Corporation of London's head of development, carrying a huge scale model of the US Air Force B2 "stealth bomber". He slams it on the desk.
"That's what I'll build for you", he says. "A stealth building... that'll pass under the radar."
The head honcho - a sucker for glamour - says yes immediately.
Well, stealth isn't the word I would use for it. Wealth, certainly. But not stealth. It's just about the only thing you can see now, if you're at the east side of St Paul's.
The motive of the ego-architect is, by definition, to be seen. But after he's moved on, who's condemned to shuffle endlessly beneath his tarnishing edifice? You. Compared to Paris - which is exceptionally harmonious architecturally - the harsh modernist mess of London is striking. Partly because a lot of it was rebuilt after WWII bombings...
Celine said: "Invoking posterity is like making speeches to worms”. But in architecture that's a false maxim, because buildings do persist - like them or not. And humans are not worms; they can see, and have a preference for beauty. Nouvel's building invokes not posterity but pomposity. A disregard for what's around it. Us.
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