13 July 2017, a new stamp issue from Royal Mail will celebrate contemporary architecture in Britain. Landmark Buildings features 10 stamps showcasing eye-catching British architecture. The buildings were chosen for inclusion due to their high visitor numbers and excellence of design. There is no doubt that there has been something of a renaissance in British architecture over the last 20 years. But few buildings have met with universal approval!
There’s nothing calculated to spark more controversy than modern architecture. One man’s vision of beauty is another’s idea of an eyesore! The new buildings tend to generate a raft of complaints and the cutting-edge designs and materials often yield unforeseen problems. 20 Fenchurch Street, an office building in London, has proved to be the perfect example of how the best laid plans can go a little awry!
Better known as the “Walkie Talkie”, 20 Fenchurch Street is a distinctive glass tower block which now dominates the skyline. When the tower was still under construction it was discovered that the curved frontage acted like a concave mirror. For two hours each day, the building focused light onto the street below producing incredible spot temperatures which were measured at up to 117 °C (243 °F)!
The reflected sunlight damaged parked vehicles in the streets including one in Eastcheap which basically melted! It also became possible to fry eggs in pans placed on the ground. In consequence, the tower became known as the “Walkie Scorchie” and the “Fryscraper”! It transpired that sun-louvres, which should have been installed on the building to prevent the problem, had been removed from the plans. A permanent awning was later erected to block the reflected rays.
The building’s architect, Rafael Viñoly, also infamously designed the Vdara hotel in Las Vegas. This has caused a similar problem with heat. Some employees of the establishment dubbed the building’s reflection the “Vdara death ray”. The offending glass was eventually covered with a non-reflective coating.
A Room with a View
Perhaps the most high-profile structure to be built in recent years, the Shard in London is the tallest building in the European Union. The design of the building proved to be both striking and popular but concealed an issue which did not become apparent until the opening of the Shangri-La Hotel. The hotel occupies floors 34 – 52 of the Shard and promised spectacular views over the capital. Unfortunately, guests soon discovered that they also enjoyed impressive views of neighbouring rooms including the bathrooms!
The glass façade of the Shard combined with a design which featured cut out corners meant that hotel guests in some of the rooms could look straight into neighbouring bathrooms. The lack of privacy soon hit the headlines and so the hotel added white stripes to the glass of the affected rooms. This enhancement then enraged high-paying customers who were expecting an amazing view over London but entered their rooms to discover that their view was obscured by the new privacy measures. The hotel is now fitting blinds!
The architectural merits of any building, or lack of them, only tend to become apparent over time. Structures boasting designs which may seem jarring when they are first built may eventually be viewed as architectural treasures. But some never quite manage to worm their way into the hearts of the nation.
The National Theatre on the South Bank in London was disliked by many from the outset. Designed by Sir Denys Lasdun and Peter Softley, the concrete monstrosity is now inexplicably a listed building! Described by Prince Charles as “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”, The National Theatre continues to offend a high proportion of those who have the misfortune to encounter it.
Maybe we will all learn to love the National Theatre. After all, Parisians weren’t fond of the Eiffel Tower in the early days and many eminent Londoners hated Tower Bridge. Architect Henry Heathcote Statham said that the bridge ‘represents the vice of tawdriness and pretentiousness’. In 1894 it was rumoured that a dog refused to cross it, such was its disdain for the structure!
Masterpieces or Carbuncles
No building will ever meet with universal approval. Architecture is a matter of taste and the taste of architects tends to be a few years ahead of everybody else’s. Some of their creations come to be regarded as masterpieces whilst others continue to be viewed as ugly carbuncles.
Royal Mail appear to have chosen wisely for the Landmark Buildings issue. Modern, striking, memorable and popular, these are ten structures which will be viewed fondly by future generations:
Aquatics Centre, Olympic Park, London
Library of Birmingham
Clyde Auditorium SEC Armadillo
Scottish Parliament Building
Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre
National Assembly for Wales
Eden Project, St Austell, Cornwall
Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
Imperial War Museum North, Manchester
Tate Modern Extension, London