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Punctuation marks

review

New City Architecture At Finsbury Avenue Square, Broadgate, London EC2 until 2 July The timing of this troglodytic exhibition seems spot on. With the recent completion of the Swiss Re tower and a raft of proposals for big new buildings in the City of London, it is a timely piece of puff for the financial centre. The trouble is that it is not an entirely convincing show.

Situated in a glazed, subterranean Tardis in the centre of one of London's more successful modern urban spaces - Arup and SOM's Broadgate development - the exhibition greets the visitor with a large model of London, the newer structures picked out in increased articulation and colour against the white mass of the surrounding ones.

There is some good stuff here. Foster's Swiss Re at St Mary Axe has radically redefined the skyline of both the City and the city, its impact being felt more keenly on east London than on its immediate surroundings. Foster's bridge, once known as 'wobbly', has also made a real difference to the City's fabric and accessibility. Eric Parry's monumental and urbane Finsbury Square building is a sophisticated and rather unEnglish intervention into an architecturally stolid area (and far more successful than Foster's new building on the other side of the same square).

Rogers' new buildings here, 88 Wood Street and the proposal for the Leadenhall Tower, are good, but not a patch on the expressionistic money-making machine of the Lloyd's Building. Arup's enormous Plantation Place is not as good, while Paternoster Square, although partially successful in reinstating an interesting street plan, has the fuzziness induced by Prince Charles' forays into architecture in the 1980s, which we had thought we had long escaped.

The most invigorating walk in the City's currently balmy streets remains the quick stroll from Horace Jones' delightful Leadenhall Market, with its spilling-over pubs and leftover 'caffs', via Rogers' Lloyd's Building (which has stood up well) and on to Swiss Re, via one of London's very few good Miesian buildings: Gollins, Melvin, Ward & Partners' 1960s Commercial Union Building. These structures span well over a century yet work together; there is progression and also consistency from the delicacy of Leadenhall to Foster's tower.

But it is hard to look at the new stuff, realised and proposed, and see what the effects will be. Piano's 'Shard of Glass' may be elegant but argument remains over what exactly is happening at its base. Grimshaw's Minerva Building and KPF's Heron Tower will exert a powerful effect on the skyline, but what they will contribute to the city and streetscapes is debatable.

At the press launch of the show at the Mansion House, much was made by curator Peter Murray and the Lord Mayor of the standard of new City architecture and its importance in attracting (what the Lord Mayor referred to as) 'golden collar'workers.

Murray explained that American and Dutch developers, urbanists and architects are now being taken on tours around the City to see what was going on. The implication is that this is the forefront of urbanism.

On the evidence of this show, that is hard to justify. The essence of the City is a controlled higgledy-piggledyness, with spots of brilliance - the antithesis to the avenues and grids of Paris, Barcelona or New York. This has always been the case with the ground plan; now it is becoming the case for the skyline too. The model eloquently shows that, even with the new skyscrapers, the City is full of gaps. The good buildings are punctuation marks, spaced-out interventions doing little to increase coherence or urbanity, and the broader text is nowhere made visible.

Edwin Heathcote is architectural correspondent for the Financial Times

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