Recognising limits of the Modern Movement
James Dunnett's diatribe against the proposed Grimshaw addition to the Royal College of Art (above) raises issues that extend far beyond the circumstances of that project. His vigorous defence of the urbanistic principles of the Modern Movement ignores the damage done to London and other cities by the application of those principles.
Cadbury-Brown's RCA is, of course, a fine building of its age, rightly listed, and the demolition of even a small part of it can only be sanctioned if the need is proven. Were the case to be made, however, Grimshaw's building has a precedent in the form of Norman Shaw's massive mansion blocks to the west of the Albert Hall - and the Hall itself is not a building that will be easily outfaced. As CadburyBrown has himself conceded, there is a case for a bigger building on the site of the Gulbenkian Wing, removing the views of the backs of older buildings created by the demolitions of the 1960s.
The RCA apart, the Modern Movement's impact on 'Albertopolis' was entirely disastrous - the supposedly 'open' space now being filled by Foster's Imperial College business school was neither public nor attractive.
American-style 'plazas' of the type which Dunnett extols are entirely alien to London and it is hard to see how these bleak expanses, conceived to frame office towers, can be products of the social vision of the Garden City movement, as he claims.
The attractions of proposed new tall buildings, including the Heron Tower and Rogers' proposed tower on Leadenhall Street, include covered public space and a direct relationship to the historic street pattern.
Rogers' Lloyd's building was itself innovative in anchoring itself to the historic Leadenhall Market and seeking to extend the public realm around and through the new building - it was the conservatism of the client that killed this idea.
The Modern Movement's achievements deserve appreciation and, where appropriate, protection. But a wholesale return to its urban prescriptions is as undesirable as it is unlikely.
Kenneth Powell, London