“Take care with whom you joke” was my grandfather’s advice AND I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO HIM. I published the above b&w drawing, in a 1998 book City as landscape: a post-Postmodern view of design and planning. The more exciting designs on my diagram were inspired by a TV set and a kettle (and the trees should have been smaller). In 1998, Postmodern architecture was going out of fashion. Every architect wanted to know what the Next Big Thing was going to be. Obviously, this was it. POST-Postmodern was what the architectural world needed. New skylines take a while to plan, design and build. My diagram is now taking shape, beyond the Tower of London, with help from Rogers and Foster. We’ll have to wait a bit for the kettle but the kitchen metaphor has proved highly influential. Rogers’ wife is, of course, a cook. And when I used to walk to work beside one of his first houses (in Wimbledon) I used to watch his parents cleaning their teeth in the office-style uncurtained bathroom window. My photo of the City of London’s emerging skyline shows: the Walkie-Talkie (Rafael Viñoly), the Cheesegrater (Richard Rogers) and the Gherkin (Norman Foster).
The Gherkin was OK when it stood alone. But I do not look foward to The Pepperpot, The Toaster and the Wooden Spoon jostling for attention on London’s waterfront. Are the designs inspired by envy at the way bankers cook their books so brilliantly? Simon Jenkins asks Who let this Gulf on Thames scar London’s Southbank? Mayor Boris and recalled the raw greed evinced at the RIBA: Talking towers with London architects is like talking disarmament with the National Rifle Association. A skyscraper seems every builder’s dream. At a Royal Institute of British Architects seminar on the subject last April, I faced an audience almost entirely of architects who treated any criticism of tall buildings as nothing to do with aesthetics or urban culture but to do with denying them money. They played the man, not the ball, accusing critics of being elitist, reactionary, heritage-obsessed and enemies of architecture.
To the people of the London I can only say that I am ‘Sorry, very, very Sorry’. I should have kept my diagram in a sealed cabinet.
Note: architects have made London’s skyline what it is, for good and ill. My criticism is that they are reluctant to work together for the public good. In design, it is every man and woman for himself or herself. It is not, primarily, a matter of ‘preserving’ the old skyline, except in certain places, and Rem Koolhaas speaks with wisdom on this point: London has always changed dramatically and it is still not a dramatic city… Drama is not what architecture is about but on the other hand I do not see it has dangers for London.