Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Thursday, 4 October 2012


In a recent comment I made on Silver Tiger's blog  I stated that my own opinion of The Shard was a positive one. I, however, do not see it every day, I do not know what was demolished to make way for its construction and I do not know how it affects,  enhances or blights the surrounding area.
Common sense arrives at the Gorbals -
 almost 50 years too late.

What I do know, however, is that it is visually more exciting than the rectangular monstrosities that arrogant architects and greedy construction companies vomited over Britain's cities in the 60s and 70s as a result of trying to digest Le Corbusier's unpalatable visions.

Times have changed to some extent. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the greed and overweening self-confidence of those in the property development trade has diminished, yet I would suggest that up-ended concrete shoe boxes are a thing of the past. Today's mega-buildings try to engage the viewer - in much the same way as palaces always have. In other words, such buidings' functions include those of inspiring awe, confidence in the owner and perhaps a sort of vicarious pride. Perhaps the greatest example in London of a building with a message is the solid, austere, imposing White Tower of William the Conqueror*. It certainly let the recently-conquered English know who was boss!

Whatever aesthetic progress has been made, I still opine (not very originlly, I admit)  that economic reasons apart. The justification behind building such thrusting, phallic, erections is, as well as visually communicating a city's strength, vigour and confidence, quite infantile at heart: "mine is bigger than yours, so there".

 Seville has also decided that in order to be a really modern city it needs a proper skyscraper, higher, much higher than its cathedral's bell tower. 

So we have the elliptical Torre Pelli (180.5m). It is being built at the entrance to the old Expo '92 site and so is outside the heritage area. I like it. For more pictures, click here

Artist's impression of the finished tower

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing it wreathed in the early morning mist. As it is still open to the elements, the mist was flowing through it instead of around it and both the top and the base of the building were completely shrouded. It was a truly breathtaking sight and one that will be lost when it is finally enclosed. Unfortunately, as I was driving I was unable to take any pictures 

At the moment building work has stopped as both the company that was to install the façade and the glassmakers who were to manufacture it have gone bankrupt. To make matters worse, the glass was patented by the manufacturer and so is the object of legal wrangles by the company's creditors

Still, hope springs eternal; work on the Cathedral was started in 1401, it was consecrated in 1507 and was terminated in 1927, so perhaps there's plenty of time left for me to snap the unfinished Torre Pelli in the mist.

Finally, Gentle Reader, if you are from London, please try not to indulge in Shardenfreud as you compare the two towers that are the subject of this post!

*Strange to relate, in Spain William is known as William the Bastard. Even stranger is that the Anglo-Saxons don't call him that, but we all know that history is wrtten by the victors.


  1. I remain implacably opposed to the Shard and to all the other oversized buildings in London. They block the view, steal the sky and turn the streets into dark, windy canyons. Compared with the best corporate buildings of the past they are inhuman both in design and scale. Already problems are emerging that the architects did not realize.

    I am not interested in being "visually challenged" by buildings. A building has a purpose to fulfill and should be designed with that in mind and also to harmonize with its surroundings. A collection of "challenging buildings" simply becomes and ugly array of disparate monstrosities.

    From what I see, many architects simply do not realize that what looks good to them on paper will not look half as good in reality. They are not used to building on the current scale and don't realize the problems they are creating. In trying to be clever and different they are using untried and untested designs and materials that don't stand up to the stresses placed on them. Norman Foster's designs would look good if he stuck the vases and jugs but when he makes them building-sized, that's when he degrades the environment.

    I agree that the 1960s were a period of vandalism when so many beautiful old buildings were destroyed and ugly brutalist designs supplanted them. There is now better protection for valuable historic buildings but this enlightenment has not yet penetrated building design which is still amateurish and ugly. As with art, there are some who are producing good work, but in both disciplines these artists are being marginalized in favour of top names who can do no wrong in the eyes of many and continue their depredations unchecked.

    I well remember La Giralda and the place it occupied in Seville. I find it hard to imagine that a gigantic tower can improve things but it's not up to me to sit in judgement. I have enough to put up with in my own city.

  2. I tend to side with you, Silver Tiger... but I wonder if our position may be a little too conservative. First, think about what people back in the 13th century made of the Gothic cathedrals we admire so much today - I actually prefer Romanesque myself. Second, what about the symbolic purpose of a building? The idea of simply show that something can be accomplished. Third, and related, all the technological and human innovations that can result from a challenging architectural project (not all good of course). Ultimately, I think there has to be a bit of everything and experimentation is good. I do think harmony should be the organizing principle more often than not and not just in architecture. I am a big proponent of "simple, small, and harmonious." But if everybody (as a society) thought this way we would not be were we are - would we? Sort of thinking out loud here.