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Walk: contemporary architecture in the City of London

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After WWII, the City of London was rebuilt in modernist style. The 1986 ‘Big Bang’ prompted a frenzy of construction in which much of that post-war fabric was lost. Now 1980s offices, often in a vaguely post-modern style, are themselves under threat.

Our walk led by Alec Forshaw began by the Guildhall, where Richard Gilbert Scott built the City’s Art Gallery (completed 1995) in Art Deco-Gothic over the remains of a Roman amphitheatre. Then up Basinghall Street past two examples of a smooth (or rather brash) American style: Woolgate Exchange (2000) by SOM and City Place House (1992) by Swanke Hayden Connell, both showing lavish use of stone. The view is closed by 40 Basinghall Street, an elegant re-cladding of a 1960s block that faced London Wall.

Aldermanbury Square is a fine example of a new public space, with views of Eric Parry’s 5 Aldermanbury Square (2007), leaning back in a subtle entasis. Wood Street is dominated from the north by Terry Farrell’s blandly post-modern Alban Gate (1992). More appealing is Richard Rogers’ 88 Wood Street (1999), an exercise in minimalist transparency heightened by colour. Through Norman Foster’s 100 Wood Street (2000) to Nicholas Grimshaw’s 25 Gresham Street (2002) which has a lovely cladding of slate panels fixed by steel ‘stitching’. Foster also designed the elegant 10 Gresham Street (2003) for Standard Life, and a sweet little restaurant at 6 Gutter Lane (2008). 1 Wood Street (2008) by Fletcher Priest for Eversheds is especially fine, creating a small public square. At Bracken House (1987 – 92) Michael Hopkins inserted a taut, metallic new block between Albert Richardson’s brick wings of 1955 – 59. Make Architects’ folded steel City of London Information Centre (2012), is worthy of Zaha Hadid herself.

And so to Paternoster Square, where William Holford’s 1960s blocks were widely disliked. In the new scheme various architects designed buildings with common materials and cornice lines around an Italianate piazza: my favourite was MJP Architects’ Warwick Court (2002) with its syncopated rhythms of orange terracotta, limestone, and steel. Alec’s walk showed how the City has managed to create buildings of high quality and civic dignity, and his book New City is excellent.

Peter Wylde

C20 members visited the City of London in June 2016

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