With reference to one property development site within the City of London, critically appraise the extent to which that development delivers successful modern property development whilst at the same time respecting the historic sense of identity of the City of London as identified by Glinert. The City of London sometimes referred to as ‘the square mile’ denotes the area within the original old walled city built by the Romans in about AD50. 1 One can still see evidence of roman heritage by visiting the London wall, built in around 200AD or the only roman built amphitheatre, which is located under the Guildhall art gallery.
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Today the City of London is considered one of the leading international business and financial centres of the world. 3 It has grown substantially over the years, most notably throughout the 18th century and ‘has now evolved from a small, inward-looking place with strong boundaries into a more amorphous beast’4. The population fell rapidly during the 19th and 20th century’s when residential housing was demolished in favour of new office buildings. It is now the case that there are 33% more workers than residents in the area.
Having suffered heavy damage during World War II very few of the original structures remain. It is important to mention that St Paul’s cathedral did remain standing and there are many well-published photographs of St Paul’s surrounded by buildings which were on fire or completely destroyed, most notably ‘St Paul’s Survives’ taken by Herbert Mason. Despite the destruction caused by the war it did allow for mass rebuilding of larger scale and more modern developments. It is not too difficult to spot the difference between pre and post war developments, predominantly because pre war buildings are often much smaller.
Many people suggest that Paternoster Square outside St Paul’s is an example of how the post war trends might have now been reversed. This view is largely due to the ‘traffic free, public open space’ and ‘classical architecture, using traditional materials’ that now forms the square. For the comparison purposes of answering this question I will be using the Lloyds Building located on Lime Street in London designed by Richard Rogers and completed in 1986. The insurance company Lloyds of London commissioned it in the 1970’s because they needed more space as they continued to expand.
Lloyds had spread to three buildings across both Leadenhall and Lime Streets. This included the Royal Mail building and a purpose built office for Lloyds that been designed by the architect Terence Heysham5. This office had a considerably more conservative and classical look and was arguably much more suited to the location than the new Lloyds building. It had been planned to be adequate for Lloyds’ purposes until the 21st century but this wasn’t the case. The building has since been demolished and is the site of the modern Willis Building.
The unusual design of the Lloyds building with all of the services located on the outside has certainly caused many conflicting opinions. This has been labelled ‘Bowellism’ and is a method used to create as much space and flexibility as possible for the interior. My general opinion of ‘services’ is grey, cold and they ought to be hidden within the walls. When I first set eyes on the building, thoughts of industrial factories and multi story car parks entered my mind. This is due to the large amounts of metal that forms the majority of the exterior.
I believe the building looks as though it is performing a function, like a power station, not a useable office building. I am by no means against modern development in the City of London, however I believe the Lloyds Building is not suited to the City of London. The Willis building on the other hand is smart, light and looks like it means business. The same could be said for the closely located Gherkin and Shard buildings. The development can still be unusual and previously untried, but in my opinion shout not be outrageous and provoking.
Having said this though, I believe an architect would feel he had failed if no one had been provoked by his work. A particular building or site distinguishes many cities. For example the Eiffel tower is the symbol for Paris and one may say Buckingham Palace is the symbol for London. This means that a city’s identity can be portrayed through its architecture and I believe that a building like the Lloyds building is not appropriate for the prestigious City of London.
The extent to which the Lloyds Building is a modern success can definitely be questioned. One of the aims of locating the ugly serviceable components on the outside is that costs are saved on repairs because everything is accessible. However the cost of cleaning the external steel is so extortionate and frequent that the benefits are outweighed completely. Also, now that it is Grade 1 listed it means alternations are extremely hard to make. The whole point of the design was that the building could be changed and re-ordered like Meccano.
This means it can no longer even achieve one of the primary objectives that were in mind when it was built. This is one of the main reasons I believe it does not represent a ‘successful modern property development’. In the summer of 2013 it was reported: ‘The outgoing chief executive of Lloyd’s of London blamed the design of the insurer’s headquarters for its high maintenance costs’ 6and that Lloyds are considering terminating their lease when the next break clause occurs in 2021.
With regards to ‘respecting the historic sense of identity’ in the City of London, I believe it is completely unsuitable and looks out of palace in the ‘square mile’. It doesn’t necessarily comply with the description of the City that Glinert gives us either. Glinert portrays a medieval scene with bustling streets full of culture. The Lloyds building is certainly an attraction, and people travel a long way to visit it, but as far as expressing London’s identity goes it’s hopeless. Many people would argue that it shows the City of London is able to adapt and progress in new and exciting ways.
An article from the Financial Times in July 2013 read ‘…the subsequent development of the city has shown the Lloyds Building to be a brilliant and resilient sculptural masterpiece which manages to maintain a balance between its dense, historic surroundings, its transplanted historic interiors and the rapidly changing cityscape around it7. ’ This quote seemingly contradicts my opinion regarding the building and explains that it is in tune with its surroundings despite its very contrary styling.
I find the design almost rather sinister in comparison to other modern developments such as the Gherkin. Whilst I admire the Lloyds Building I don’t think that it has the right character for the City of London. Whilst even the newest skyscrapers don’t blend in with the City’s past heritage, they don’t blot it either. They look prestigious and add a new and exciting vibe to the area at the same time as not only respecting but also improving the overall identity of the City.
There is no doubt that the Lloyds building was designed to stand out and be significant, but it is a futuristic mess of twisted metal and concrete that doesn’t have a place in London. I have also done some research and noticed that there haven’t been any further developments exposing the service components since the Lloyds building was finished. This evidently means that it hasn’t been a great accomplishment and could almost be viewed as an expensive experiment. I was surprised when it was granted Grade 1 listed status in 2011. English Heritage describes it as ‘universally recognised as one of the key buildings of the modern epoch’.
Whilst it is significant and modern I can’t argue that it conforms to Glinert’s identification of London ‘seeping with history, filled with ancient churches and medieval alleyways’. 8 It could easily be placed in any other city in the world and it would still be significant for the same reasons and would take nothing of London with it. Due to the reasons I have presented I cannot accept that the Lloyds Building delivers successful modern property development or that it respects the historic sense of identity that is so important to the City of London.