Creating a new icon and forging Brown's quality infrastructure
Why are we publishing Foster and Partners'City Hall (page 22)? The answer is, primarily, because it is a good building, although that should not always be the sine qua non of architectural publishing - sometimes it is important to highlight examples of bad practice, as well as good, in order that lessons can be learnt.
City Hall is also a 'statement building' in the tradition of Bilbao, if a little more cognisant of that fact than Gehry's precursor; it tells us as much about the GLA as the government which sanctioned its commission, and is a building which its architects say has low energy goals as its starting point.
Has it met them? Would, for example, using an existing, ie 'brownfield' building, have proved less of an energy burden? We would have had that if Will Alsop's scheme in Bloomsbury had been chosen. But we would not have had quite the same form, in quite the same significant location.
Is City Hall the correct shape to ensure that the sun's rays require the minimum of shading at all times of the year? Is it sustainable to have a complex (though ingenious) cladding system costing more £540/m 2? Is it environmentally sound to create all that unusable space, punctuated by the Reichstag-esque spiral ramp? And no embodied energy assessment? The answer must be that ecological principles are not the entire picture. City Hall scores with its use of borehole cooling, aiding a big problem of rising water tables. But it also scores with its 'wow'factor, and the democratic principles of open access.
City Hall is an important, high-profile icon for London and its governance, while Ushida Findlay's new regeneration-instigator for Hastings (pages 6 and 7) is broadly in the same family.
This kind of quality is rare. But lifting it across the board, funded by Gordon Brown's Comprehensive Spending Review, is imperative. One way to start is to ensure that the £4.5 billion a year by 2005-06 promised for modernising schools, and the £5.9 billion for social housing and upgrading old properties, are only handed down once qualitatative targets are met, supervised by new inspectorates. Otherwise, there is a danger that in the rush for numbers, the necessity for quality will be neglected.