Icon 166: The city issue 27.02.17

Written by  James McLachlan

In our latest issue, Santiago Calatrava unveils plans for a major new development in London, while Tom Dyckhoff asks if cash has killed the city

After a couple of false starts, Santiago Calatrava has finally arrived in London. The Spanish architect – a purveyor of spectacular architectural setpieces the world over – enjoys a mixed reputation. Calatrava’s skeletal structures are eye-catching, certainly, but as far as budgets are concerned, they are a little more wayward. His ‘upturned milking stool’ (pictured below), as our writer describes it, is soon to rise from the no man’s land of the Greenwich peninsula with a tentative £1bn price tag, but, given Calatrava’s track record, there has to be an element of educated guesswork afoot by Hong Kong developer Knight Dragon.

Still, developers court his office because he can deliver something out of the ordinary. If you want thrifty (and safe), hire someone else. Amid the criticism that welcomed his arrival, it is worth bearing in mind that overspends are not the domain of Calatrava exclusively. The late Zaha Hadid was no stranger to testing the elasticity of a budget. Even that model of Swiss precision Herzog and de Meuron is not immune from controversy: the practice’s Elbphilharmonie was reported as overspending by £700m. If you want a starchitect, then you have to make peace with the fact that the bottom line is subject to change.

For his part, Calatrava has expressed utmost confidence that the milking stool will not stray from the current parameters. But should we even care? This is not public money, after all. And the other end of the spectrum is far grimmer. Many architects slug it out in the sad arena of design-and-build contracts. Without getting bogged down in the intricacies of construction contracts, this essentially means that the contractor rather than the developer employs the architect. And sometimes contractors and architects have different ideas about what makes a successful building. Time and again, good architects watch in despair as, bit by bit, their ideas are pulled apart by cost-cutters who put profits before quality. When you consider this, it is strangely heartening that there remains one section of the profession that still has the power to push back.

In this issue, we also speak to those whose influence on the urban condition is more temperate. Entrepreneur Rohan Silva has had great success with his Second Home concept in Shoreditch, and spoke to us about its latest iteration, this time in Lisbon. We discover how China is turning its back on the megamall in favour of urban retail that embraces public space. And finally, Tom Dyckhoff looks back to a moment when the 1970s post-industrial malaise nearly killed our cities off for good.



James McLachlan



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Time and again, good architects watch in despair as, bit by bit, their ideas are pulled apart by cost-cutters who put profits before quality




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