VALUE ENGINEERING HAS TRANSFORMED IT INTO A PARODY OF ITS FORMER SELF
The appointment of Ian Ritchie to design the 16ha White City shopping centre in west London in 1997 seemed positively inspired. The developer, Chelsfield, resisted the urge to go for Disney-style flamboyance, opting instead for an architect renowned for his feel for materials, attention to detail and lightness of touch. Not only would London benefit from one of the largest retail regeneration projects in Europe, it would also gain a sophisticated addition to the public realm.
It seemed it couldn't lose.
Fast forward to 2005, and it's a very different tale. One look at the mocked-up cladding samples, currently on display at the White City site, makes it abundantly clear that the project is now in the hands of a client with little appreciation of Ritchie's work. Westfield, which took control of the project earlier this year, has carried out a programme of 'value engineering' that has transformed the original proposal into a crude parody of its former self.
With a different kind of building, this might not have been so catastrophic. A showy one-liner could accommodate the odd change to the specification or a few dumbed-down details.
But in a building of such subtlety and beauty the consequences are dire. Ritchie's design eschewed ornament or complicated elevations, allowing copper's natural depth and richness to give the streetscape life and warmth. The variation and texture of the copper has been replaced by uniformly flat-coloured panels.
The horizontality of the elevations has been eroded by badly executed vertical joints. The ribbon windows have completely disappeared, reinforcing the sense of separation between the shopping centre and the surrounding community it serves.
Ritchie paid his client - and his city - the compliment of producing highly considered grown-up architecture. It seems his confidence was misplaced.