26 April 2010


How to and how not to counterpose old & new architecture

This stands out as one of the nastiest mixings of old and new buildings I've ever seen. Take one historic facade (17th century?) on Gun Street, E1. Resentfully obey the letter of the listed building regulations, and do your damndest to flout the spirit of them. Knock down everything behind the facade and construct cheap-as-possible student housing in the kind of brick that'll be rotten in 40 years. Don't bother to align the windows, such that residents live in the dark and can only see three feet out on to the facade's concrete backing.

Meanwhile, in the background, a property developer constructs a new skyscraper according to formulae for maximising the floorplan at the lowest possible cost. The architects have no meaningful freedom, their only choice being how to whack on some "artfully asymmetric" cladding that enables the building to marketed as "designed" and "dynamic". In this way capital is over-leveraged, architecture constructed as a commodity, and lots more lovely capital (hopefully) accumulated.

In contrast, take this remarkably sympathetic use of materials for new-ish apartments on the River Lea near Bow. For once a block that was no-doubt marketed as having gritty urban-cool "warehouse" style actually has some dialogue with the dilapidated industrial buildings beside it. Ok, the form's nothing special. But just something in how the wood has weathered; the colour of the glass; the perforated steel balconies. Hemmed in on two sides by motorways (the A11 and A12), I can't promise that this is a genuinely functional, flourishing neighbourhood. When the old warehouses get knocked down for more new development, this fragile architectural sympathy between old and new will be lost. But for a few moments, on a sunny day in April...


RIchard said...

That is quite uncanny! I often walk past this 'development' in E8 and the phrase 'following the letter of the regulations but hardly the spirit' always goes through my mind when I see the ugly, weird and wasteful treatment of this old facade.

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