Surreal London goes to the polls
05 May 2021, Paul Finch
This week London gets the chance to retain or replace its Mayor, and since it is a mainly Labour city will probably return the incumbent, Sadiq Khan. The election campaign has nevertheless begun to focus on the failings of Khan, who is by far the worse holder of the office since it was inaugurated in 2000. His ambitions to lead the Labour Party have come to nothing, despite his tactical support for the walking disaster Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. We are probably stuck with Khan here in the capital.
What this means for architecture is far from clear. Having shown scant interest in actually building any social housing thus far, Khan has been boasting about his intentions during his next term. It will probably be more of the same – that is to say penalising housebuilders by imposing silly ‘affordable homes’ quotas on them as the price for obtaining planning permission. This is a policy that failed under former mayors Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, but the Great Khan’t seems unaware that the definition of an idiot is somebody who repeats the same experiment expecting a different outcome.
Despite his posturing, when it comes to achievement Khan has little to show. He hasn’t sorted out the closed Hammersmith Bridge but nor has done nothing to improve transpontine travel arrangements, indeed quite the contrary. His road policies utterly ignore the increasing amount of traffic, for example the 50,000 Uber cars his transport authority has licensed and the increasing number of online delivery vehicles. This is to give him green credentials which are questionable because of the extraordinary increase in traffic congestion and resultant emissions, which are entirely of his making.
By the way, Uber drivers (including many of Khan’s fellow-Muslims), have had enough of him because of his apparent belief that everybody should travel by bus if they don’t want to be stuck in jams. This sticks in their craw not least because they now need to pay £15 a day, seven days a week, to access central London. This ‘congestion charge’ is a payment to sit in congested traffic, some of it the result of mayoral road closures the courts have declared illegal.
London is operating in a ‘you couldn’t make this up’ environment, with woke-twerps and (worse) woke-phoneys making the running in discussion of architecture and planning. A good example was the boastful statement by a practice, refurbishing a building in a conservation area in the City of London, that they were not producing a steel and glass tower. That is because nobody asked them to, and indeed may be reluctant to do so in the future. The clue is in the phrase ‘conservation area’.
On the same day, news came in about a 45 storey-tower proposal in west London, where the architect felt no need to boast about his contribution to sorely needed housing in the capital. My observation is that the woke stuff comes from people who will be only too happy to accept a big commission if it happens, and will adjust their thinking accordingly. The serious people just get on with it.
In respect of planning, there has so far been no correction or apology for an extraordinary piece of nonsense in the recently published London Plan, which claims that Kensington & Chelsea is a ‘nationally significant office location’. The authors of this claim must be taking some sort of stimulant denied to the rest of us, who look in vain for major office developments on the King’s Road or indeed anywhere else in the borough. Have they gone mad?
Mies is obviously a bad thing
As David Chipperfield’s magnificent upgrade of the Mies National Gallery in Berlin comes into use, sad news in London Town, and specifically trendy Notting Hill, where architect Sophie Hicks has been trying to win planning permission for a Miesian glass-box house, mostly below ground, next to some heritage-protected but humdrum Victorian housing.
Planning wasn’t a problem, but a covenant giving neighbours the right to block development on aesthetic grounds has been upheld after a protracted legal battle. The neighbours, with no sense of irony about the brutality with which the Victorians smashed up anything that stood in their path, have won the day, and will probably end up negotiating a compromised design which will be ‘in keeping’. God help us.
The Times published a big feature on construction this week, under the heading ‘Toxic and dysfunctional industry in race to the bottom’. Architects did not get a single mention. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.