New builds don’t stay new for long - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

2 October 2012

There is something distinctly pleasing about radiated heat that trumps ambient heat every time. And in my house Neolithic man’s most enduring invention lives on during autumn and winter evenings. I restored my fireplace last year, opting against ripping it out and replacing it with something cool and stark. This more expensive solution in a savings-sapping redecorating programme was the right decision to make. Modernism sometimes just doesn’t cut it and some things need no redesigning.

And this is a lesson that the majority of property developers in London would do well to heed. There’s an increasing trend for pulling down entire blocks of the West End and replacing them with mixed-use office and retail blocks. Like a metropolitan equivalent of a crop circle overnight a hundred years or more of history is obliterated. In go the cranes and up goes a glass-clad, steel-framed dodecahedron with sex-toy aesthetics.

Occasionally developers are forced to perform the gravity-defying act of retaining the building’s façade while the guts are removed. These demolished blocks may have been rundown and decrepit, even eyesores in parts, but what are we losing in this process, what about the interior details, the stairs, banisters, door handles, masonry and ironmongery?

Clearly it has become easier to start from scratch with modern techniques than to restore and renovate. But I think these new structures will possess a shorter shelf life than their predecessors. They look dated before they’re finished, have pompous names with “urban” or “village” in the title and their retail offers always pander to predictable trends. Developers need to be more imaginative, spend more time and money, and exert more effort in creating restored beautiful buildings.

Imagine if Bankside Power Station had been pulled down instead of being turned into Tate Modern. Berlin’s Mitte neighbourhood and New York’s Meatpacking district are amongst those cities’ most vibrant and all from a slate of old, industrial and apparently ugly stock. People have a fondness for places rich in detail and history and the same can’t always be said for steel and glass.

If you are a landowner you’re probably already rich, no need to get even richer, quicker, with a string of lazy office builds


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