Paternoster Square: a case of parents passing on bad habits
In his book Life Style , Bruce Mau talks of the travels of his two-year-old daughter. By this tender age she had visited 12 or 13 countries.
Mau had not left his hometown of Sudbury in Ontario until he was 16. What kind of parent is that? And what kind of parent will Mau's daughter turn out to be?
We are influenced by our parents a great deal and as we grow older we can recognise traits that belonged to one or both of our guardians.
Mau's lack of worldly travel results in a shared experience with his daughter. Her wonder and fears will, in part, be moulded by his. This will be a marvellous experience that will enrich their relationship. In my own case, my father, who was 64 when I was born, never went anywhere. The world he presented to me was not a world of geography but a world of time.
A smaller geographical area to focus on intensifies the quality of the observation. My father would remind me of the monthly changes in nature, and would observe subtle changes in the works and homes and other buildings in the local vicinity. There was a conversation about what constituted improvement as the local authority changed the colours of buses and the trees in our avenue were 'pruned' every other year.
My parents handed on to me a love of picnics. Not a simple flask of tea and a sandwich but a carefully prepared feast, properly presented. Joints of meat to carve, salads and trifles all perched on a table aside a proper tartan rug. The rug was only laid out after considerable debate, often after a number of miles, on the virtues of one site over another. My parents were roaming over the surface of the earth looking for the perfect spot. Of course, this perfect spot never existed.
But parenthood passes on bad things. The city fathers in the Corporation of London have inherited all the bad things from the former city fathers. In spite of some rather good offices, they have maintained a conservative grip on their belief of what city architecture is.
They worry about competition from Canary Wharf but will not change in order to compete.
This arrogance is nowhere better displayed than at Paternoster Square. We, the public, will be subjected to buildings which make the proverbial observation of paint look interesting. Why do we have to put up with this compromised rubbish? Who do the city fathers think they are protecting? Just as British architects are showing great imagination, we grace the heart of the capital's financial centre with a sea of mediocrity by architects that have very little talent.
What would Paternoster Square be like if Zaha Hadid and Branson Coates and Rem and I had planned, co-operated, argued and explored this scheme? Whatever the result, it would not have been boring. It would indeed have stimulated a debate and interest in one of the least vibrant parts of our city.
What sort of planning authority can adopt policies that lead to empty streets after 8pm and, in spite of its wealth, complain about the cost of its only cultural contribution in the form of the Barbican. The city fathers are those that drive people out of living in the city at all. They are the commuters of our society, who damage our environment by clogging up roads and making a train impossible to use.
Who else can talk in terms of a square mile as though it should conform only to its own rules on the basis of it being unique?
Our parents are necessary and dangerous.
At best we learn to apply their best values; at worst we adopt the most sinful of their habits.
When the city begins to feel like a proper place for the twenty-first century I will start to believe that the best has been adopted.