It's time for a good dose of American confidence
'Over paid, over sexed and over here.'The influx of Americans to our shores has long since been treated with a mixture of admiration, envy and suspicion. In the architectural world, the prejudice is exacerbated by the fact that practices with American roots have proved particularly adept in areas where UK practices often fail.
Their ability to think big and cut through bureaucracy, combined with a strong tradition of urban design makes them ideally placed to tackle the on-going dilemma of how to adapt the City of London to the needs of big business without destroying its essential character.
The Merrill Lynch Building featured in this week's building study occupies a site which would have left many architects (not to mention developers and clients) paralysed with fear. St Paul's and the Old Bailey are close neighbours, while the shell of Wren's Christ Church and part of the City Wall - now a scheduled ancient monument - are among the historic structures which had to be incorporated into the new design. Swanke Hayden Connell, a practice with American roots, has risen to the challenge with aplomb.Key vistas have been retained. Historic fragments have been incorporated rather than swamped. The result is a complex composition of public, semi-public and private spaces of varying character with a reticence which belies the fact that the building is, by any standards, vast - the neighbouring Paternoster Square development was originally considered by the client but rejected on the grounds that the buildings were too small.
The current UK architecture scene is blessed with numerous highly talented small-scale practices. As is demonstrated by the buildings in our small projects feature, there is a tendency for tiny commissions to be executed with a disproportionate amount of time and care. It is a sad indictment of our urban design skills that the author of the English Heritage/CABE publication Buildings in Context struggled to find good case studies, and little surprise that those which have been included are predominantly 'little gems', while monster projects are notable by their absence.What we need is a good dose of American confidence.