Foster's Spitalfields will ruin the area's liminal function
I am sitting in the Barrister Bar at the Hilton Hotel in Toronto.
Last time I was here, I suffered a mild deep-vein thrombosis and felt as though it was the last place on earth I wanted to be. Today, I have just arrived from London and, so far, I feel fine.
This is the bar I retreated to after a day out at Niagara in January. It is where I first started to sketch and ponder the possibilities for the building of the Ontario College of Art and Design. And this is the bar where I have long conversations into the night with new friends - now old friends.
I feel comfortable in this place, even though it has a decor of padded winged easy chairs, books on shelves bought by the linear metre and a London gentlemen's club carpet. This place, despite its ridiculous falseness, has managed to transcend its own lack of reality due to the people who serve behind the bar. They are friendly, without being excessive, and clearly enjoy what they do. The people are the essence of the place.
On the flight here, I was reading This Bright Field by William Taylor, a young priest who has absorbed himself with Spitalfields for more than a decade. He has worked in the market stacking fruit and in the community as a chaplain at the local college.
During that time, he has absorbed the breadth and depth of the area and, in particular, the broad cross-section of people who live and work there, from the market workers to the new Georgians, the Anglican church to the mosque, the poverty stricken to the poor student and, through their eyes, has recognised what an extraordinary place it is.
Like the bar in which I am sitting, Spitalfields in its entirety is not wholly convincing, but the spirit of the people and their extraordinary mix of backgrounds manage to create a place that is beautiful through its vibrancy. The place is made up of some historically important buildings and many that are indifferent. But I believe the most important element here is to keep the whole of the market area in its entirety. The ground plan is the element that should be listed as it supports a vast range of different activities that are easily sustained by the motley collection of buildings that surround it, the scale of which interacts comfortably with the action. The area has always been a location where itinerants have gathered. This could be described as its function.
It could be argued that every large city requires a place where newcomers, the poor and newly arrived entrepreneurs can find their feet and either stay and absorb themselves into the city as a whole, or simply move on. Potsdamer Platz used to be the place where people gathered before entering through the gates of Berlin into Leipziger Platz. Spitalfields has resided on the edge of the City of London for hundreds of years and, unlike Potsdamer Platz, has always retained its function as a gathering place.
I am not a conservationist at heart, as I believe in the evolution of cities as they respond to new and challenging opportunities, technologies and culture.But in this instance, I believe that Lord Foster's proposed new buildings and the truly awful support building will damage a real London resource that functions very well.
William Taylor's book should be required reading for all those who believe it should be tampered with and then perhaps we could persuade 'the City' that it should leap into action and embrace the Lea Valley, where Section 106 agreements could help towards financing our new national athletics stadium. Read it, and keep the developers on the run!
WA, from a bar stool at the Hilton Hotel, Toronto