Rafael Viñoly's grotesque imposition 15.01.15

walkie talkie web

Viñoly's building at 20 Fenchurch Street

The Walkie-Talkie tower's jarring distortion of the City skyline adds to general unease about Britain's financial heart, says Owen Hatherley

There is a view of Rafael Viñoly's just-completed Fenchurch Street skyscraper where its bulging, bumptious form appears just between the two French Gothic-dressed pylons of Tower Bridge. This view has excited some comment, to put it mildly – seen from the south-east, roughly from City Hall, it looks like a grotesque imposition on a celebrated view, an unexpected guest bellowing, "hello!"

Standing outside the apparently meticulous "cluster" of skyscrapers in the City's heart, the building draws much more attention to itself than it could possibly have done elsewhere. This is treated as if it's a terrible planning mistake, as if nobody thought the building would have such a distorting effect on the City skyline. Much more unnerving is the possibility that it's actually deliberate.

The recently retired planner of the City of London, Peter Rees, purported to be a disciple of the art of "Townscape". As developed in the 1950s by Ian Nairn and Rees' mentor, Gordon Cullen, Townscape was about the city as juxtaposition, the bringing together of disparate things harmoniously. An architect like Eric Parry working in Piccadilly is under manners, disciplined by the demand to be "in keeping" in materials and scale; the same architect at Wood Street in the City is able to ignore all of that, building a tower in an oblique dialogue with nearby towers by Mcmorran & Whitby and Richard Rogers.

Sometimes this approach throws up intriguing, disturbing juxtapositions – OMA's Rothschild building cranking itself around Wren's St Stephen Walbrook, or Peter Foggo's vigorous, slightly sinister office blocks rearing up against Edwardiana; but sometimes, it's just gross, as where Jean Nouvel's inept, lurking shopping mall splits its bulk open to offer a consolatory view of St Paul's.

In the best of these, historic monuments such as Tower Bridge are not destroyed in Year Zero fashion, nor are they politely complemented, in the manner common to postmodernists and polite modernists, but are placed into complex, sometimes outright weird juxtapositions and discontinuities. All this may largely be because the City is a more demanding client – bending planning to its implacable will more than, say, Westminster – rather than a mere consequence of Rees' townscape enthusiasms.

However, it adds to the general unease of Britain's generously state-funded financial heart, the sense that something horribly wrong is happening here: which, of course, it is. And to prove it, here's Rafael Vinoly's introduction of himself and his clients' defective aesthetics, barging right into your picture postcard.

What do you think of the Walkie-Talkie tower? You can respond using the comment box below

 

Words

Owen Hatherley

quotes story

Standing outside the apparently meticulous "cluster" of skyscrapers in the City's heart, the building draws much more attention to itself than it could possibly have done elsewhere

skygarden copy

The "sky garden" at the top of the building

3 comments

  • Comment Link Lucy Rogers Tuesday, 27 January 2015 23:06 posted by Lucy Rogers

    It's the most shameless monument to greed in London. Not making enough on that footprint? It's ok, just build out. Because you can. Especially with Peter Wynne Rees in charge.

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  • Comment Link Andrew Greco Monday, 19 January 2015 13:19 posted by Andrew Greco

    I hate the Walkie Talkie building and would like to see it taken down.

    It's at its worst see from the east , walking along the Thames Path.

    Who approved it? I'd like to see the planning officer's report.

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  • Comment Link David walker Saturday, 17 January 2015 16:39 posted by David walker

    An eyesore, but we still have an unnecessary overpriced bridge with a garden, possibly just a hedge on top and an incongruous box in broadgate. It's just business.... As usual.

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