One of the benefits of living in south-east London is having Greenwich Park on your doorstep. On sunny days the view of the long sweep from the top of the park, down over the Thames and across to the burgeoning new city in the Docklands is quite impressive. I say quite impressive with reason. Because once you’ve got over the shock of how much the Isle of Dogs has mushroomed in recent years, the after-effect is the same as opening a present and finding nothing inside.
When Canary Wharf Tower went up, it was a huge, solitary beacon of capitalism rising up amongst the dereliction – Thatcher’s Dick, I think they used to call it. And whether you were a capitalist or not, you had to admit that the pyramid at the top looked pretty funky – especially when it appeared to be manufacturing its own perpendicular cloud from the apex. Ten years on, six or seven other skyscrapers have now appeared around the tower. However these new constructions are not beacons but monuments to mediocrity; dull, grey rectangles boasting wealth without a hint of individuality or charm.
I know the administration of finance is a pretty dull, grey business but haven’t the honchos at Barclays, HSBC, Citibank and the like missed a trick here? I presume much of their collective success has come from being slightly less dull and grey than their competitors. So why on earth didn’t they see the construction of a bloody great big concrete erection in the middle of the new City as a superb marketing opportunity?
Londoners liked Swiss Re’s curvaceous new building in the old City so much they gave it a nickname – and quite a few of them can tell you who funded it as well. But there is nothing distinguishing these new Dockland erections other than the company’s logo at the top – and these days a brand on its own is just not enough. (In the name of CSR, at least give us Londoners something interesting to look at.) After Thatcher’s Dick, all we have to show for the new era of financial enlightenment is a sad collection of, what could you call them? ‘Blair’s Wieners’?
Some examples of more inspired city development can be found at: