I’m so glad to see that Rowan Moore has taken up the cudgels to attack the massive (and monstrous) building proposed for a site nearly immediately next door to the National Theatre, right opposite Somerset House, and equidistant between the Palace of Westminster and St. Paul’s ie bang at the centre of London and bound to look vast and hideous from Trafalgar Square as well as all the way in a boat or on the footpath along the Thames.
Why has it got this far ? The answer, as Moore makes clear, is that it is in Lambeth and the heart of Lambeth is Brixton Town Hall. They care not for the more distant parts of the Borough and are happy to use the fringes of Lambeth as a cash cow for development nearer its heart.
There is no longer any unifying agency which cares about the look of London as a whole, so each borough has allowed big blocks without paying any systematic attention to how this might affect Westminster or Somerset House or river traffic on the river or what it might look like as one crosses Hungerford Bridge.
Moore provides a good account of how this has happened. Ken Livingstone thought he would be able to keep a balance, as advised by Richard Roger’s who had a good feel for the ecology of the city when wearing his town planner’s hat. Boris Johnson then promised to stop big development (‘Dubai-on-Thames’) and did the precise opposite: we have surely learned by now that whenever he used a fancy phrase, he was using it to mask his more sinister intent and employed Lord Lister and Simon Milton to glad hand the developers and take them to lunch. Sadiq Khan doesn’t seem to be much interested in the quality and character of the City which is odd as it’s his job.
So, it’s now up to Michael Gove who has promised us beauty and may just be the only politician with the spunk to stop it. It could be his legacy.