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Walkie Talkie Building in London: Being ugly isn't easy but should it mean demolition?

Author : David Strydom

28 October 2015

Spare some sympathy for the Walkie Talkie Building (20 Fenchurch Street) in London. Still a newborn in architectural terms, it’s been pilloried and derided at every turn. It’s been blamed for turning the London skyline into an eyesore and even for melting nearby cars owing to solar glare.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, its ‘sky garden’ has been criticised for tight restrictions and advance booking requirements. The City of London Corporation's former chief planner, Peter Rees, who approved the structure, said: "I think calling it a sky garden is perhaps misleading. If people (are) expecting to visit it as an alternative to Kew, they’ll be disappointed."

In July 2015, the Walkie Talkie was blamed for having an unexpected impact on wind strength at street level, knocking pedestrians off their feet. Now, after being unanimously awarded the Building Design magazine’s Carbuncle Cup for worst building of the year, there are calls for the building to be demolished.

The Guardian, in a witty but cutting article, described the building as the ‘bulbous comedy villain of London’s skyline… it looms thuggishly over its low-rise neighbours like a broad-shouldered banker in a cheap pinstriped suit. And it gets fatter as it rises, to make bigger floors at the more lucrative upper levels, forming a literal diagram of greed.”

And just when you thought the critics couldn’t be harsher, along comes The Guardian art critic, Jonathan Jones, to really put the boot in: “It’s time to reject this fatalistic sense that grandiose design mistakes are irreversible – that we just have to put up with them. I seriously think this building should be done away with… London is being wrecked by outrageous crimes against architectural taste. This is what we can do: demolish this deranged building to create a firebreak that ends the inferno of towers.”

Ouch! But could the Walkie Talkie ever really be reduced to rubble? Sadly, yes. Should it be? Almost certainly not! The reasons are manifold, but the principal one is this: this monstrosity – truly a baobab of the urban jungle – was built after being thoroughly planned and approved. It may be the Frankenstein monster of buildings, but humans (aka city planners) are responsible for its creation.

And if you’ve ever wondered what other iconic building started off being besmirched as a crime against architecture before ending up as the darling of its nation, try the Eiffel Tower on for size. Parisians initially regarded it as an embarrassment. Léon Bloy dubbed it ‘this truly tragic street lamp’. Paul Verlaine called it ‘this belfry skeleton’ and François Coppée spoke of ‘this mast of iron gymnasium apparatus, incomplete, confused and deformed’.

Yes, there is hope yet for 20 Fenchurch Street.


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