Walkie Talkies, Gherkins and Shards: An architectural rant

ONE WOULD HAVE hoped that architects had learned their lessons from the 1960s, that gaudy era of the Yardbirds, moon landings, the King’s Road and – it pains me to remember – ghastly concrete constructions sacrilegiously proclaimed ‘buildings’, purely named so for their function and not for their appearance. Like acne-ridden teenage faces, towns all over the country are peppered with these angular grey monstrosities which look as though they’ve been slotted together by a blinded quadriplegic and have as much visual appeal as a rotting blobfish. You know the sorts – think the Barbican or the Royal National Theatre on the South Bank. If you don’t know those, I’m sure you’re familiar with the countless multi-storey car parks up and down the country, with those helter-skelter ramps down to the ground floor and the parking spaces not designed for anything larger than an Austin 1300 unless you want to risk scraping the side of your Lexus RX against a pillar the size of an oak tree.

It’s safe to say that era is – and rightly should be – confined to the realms of architectural amnesia. We cannot possibly ruin our towns and cities any further with structures that tread a fine line between ground-breaking and grotesque, can we? If the London skyline is anything to go by, then maybe we can.

As strange as it might be to imagine London as a once low-rise city, with the highest thing around most likely its crime rate, it has now inadvertently become the largest building site in the British Isles, with more cranes in its streets than gangster pigeons, unendingly adding metres to an increasingly soaring skyline. The architects of nowadays don’t turn to concrete (thank God) but rather are a bit more experimental with what the end product will look like. Take the Gherkin – it’s so hard to imagine London without that dolphin-blue phallic glass beauty, defying the commonplace cuboids that had sprung up in Canary Wharf. Then came the Shard – a mammoth masterwork of modern architecture that sits proudly at London Bridge. And now, with just weeks to go before its opening, we stare the Walkie Talkie in the face. 

If you aren’t familiar with this bizarre-looking building, whose official name is 20 Fenchurch Street, then you must count yourself lucky. For starters, it aesthetically displeases since it is top-heavy, i.e. it bulges outwards as it gets higher – generally not seen in buildings for the simple reason of that it looks bloody awful. As well as that, it has the power to melt cars, too! Its side is curved, which again, looks weird, but means that it reflects a considerable of bright sunlight into its immediate vicinity, just as it did last summer when it melted a car’s wing mirror. What’s more it sits inconsiderately and incogitantly in the heart of The City, jarring and jostling everything around it for undivided attention, spoiling the view from the top of the Shard, hiding the Gherkin nearby and looking like a kid’s toy at the same time. For such a significant building, it has little going for it. It is an architect’s egotistic experiment offending the eyes of Londoners and the wing mirrors of nearby Jaguars. 

I do wonder if these architects stagger home at night, drunk, and rummage through the junk drawer and pluck out a corkscrew or roll of masking tape and say: ‘yes – this is what my next building will look like…’ Heaven forbid – I’m dreading the genesis of a blender next to the Tower or a toilet brush on The Strand. My breath will be held until then.

It’s not that I don’t have a problem with architecture being ground-breaking; it is, of course, a form of art, and its duty is to challenge perceptions. Yet I can’t help but feel that such important and indelible additions to a cityscape should be done with a little more class and consideration to their environments. The era of experimentation – the aforementioned 60s – is long gone and we are permanently reminded of its monochrome misery when we head into town on Saturday mornings. The Gherkin, the Shard, the London Eye – and the ‘construction-on-hold’ Pinnacle – they all make statements, but they’re modest, and they make their statements through their minimalism, which in turn makes them highly effective pieces of modern design. They do not, needless to say, rely on concave faces and attacking nearby objects with laser beams to command respect. Aesthetics is a sustainable issue, and buildings hang around for long periods of time, don’t forget, so it’s vital that they be designed appropriately and agreeably. Otherwise the future generations will turn to us and say: ‘what the f*ck were you thinking in 2014?’

Well, son, I thought it then, too.

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2 thoughts on “Walkie Talkies, Gherkins and Shards: An architectural rant

  1. Totally agree! I love the Shard and the Gherkin, but it’s easy to cross the line into ugly. I think there is a kind of arms race now among certain architects.

  2. Pingback: #uStudents24 – 24 hours, 12 students, 1 city (and a very long blog post) | The Connorsseur

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