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Finch 'regrets' supporting Viñoly’s 'dumbed-down' Walkie Talkie tower

Paul Finch has admitted he regrets supporting Rafael Viñoly’s Walkie Talkie skyscraper during its public inquiry

The Design Council Cabe figurehead made the admission as he questioned the ‘value engineering’ of the 160 metre-tall project resulting in the ‘dumbing down’ of its architecture after the planning inquiry.

His comments – voiced in Finch’s weekly AJ column – come ahead of an expected planning application to install solar shading ‘mini-baffles’ on the iconic 34-storey tower, which controversially melted a nearby car by focusing light with its curving façade.

The Walkie Talkie – officially known as 20 Fenchurch Street – won revised planning in 2009 after winning a public inquiry two years earlier where Design Council Cabe defended the scheme amid fierce opposition from English Heritage.

Commenting on the inquiry, Finch said: ‘The architecture has been dumbed down. I have been wondering whether I should have appeared at the public inquiry, supporting the Viñoly design on behalf of Cabe, given what has transpired.

‘Nobody likes being treated like a chump.’

Finch said: ‘Property folk I talk to have a more simple explanation … the Canary Wharf team responsible for the construction of 20 Fenchurch Street has dumbed down Vinoly’s design, made a mess of it, and are the architects of their own misfortune.’

He added: ‘When consented, the design had fins on east and west elevations and a treatment to the south façade. These elements may have needed some design development, but certainly not the removal which took place.

‘Now the planned façade changes will have to be the subject of a fresh planning application. Given the weight given to design at the inquiry, this is not unreasonable.’


‘The Architects’ Journal has been asked to point out by Canary Wharf Group that they dispute Paul Finch’s opinion published above that the design of 20 Fenchurch Street was ‘dumbed down,’ or that the company ‘made a mess of’ the “Walkie Talkie” Tower. They have asked us to make it clear that the original design needed certain modifications to make it workable. Canary Wharf Group also says it was misleading to state that the company and/or its joint venture partner were hiding behind a multiplicity of advisors: Canary Wharf Group, its joint venture partner Land Securities, Rafael Vinoly and all the consultants, contractors and engineers involved worked together to deliver what they believe will be one of the most distinctive buildings in Europe. The Architects’ Journal is also happy to make clear that there was never any intention to call into question the integrity of Sir George Iacobescu as regards the evidence given at the public inquiry.’


Part of the scaffold screen erected along Eastcheap

Readers' comments (3)

  • So if developers can make substantial changes to a prominent design after gaining consent - not to mention changing architects at will - where does this leave the planning system?

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  • Both CABE and English Heritage were drawn into the Public Inquiry on 20 Fenchurch Street which neither asked for. At EH we decided that we had actively to oppose the development. In retrospect that was a mistake. We had earlier taken the view that these were not sufficient to warrant a request for call-in. We should have simply set out for the Inspector the impact on the setting of heritage assets and allowed him to take a view. So it's not all Paul Finch's fault. The Inspector allowed himself to be led.
    It did no good for EH and CABE to be seen arguing against each other in public, especially as we were supposed to be working to jointly prepared and promoted guidance on tall buildings.
    That said, 20 Fenchurch Street was a flawed design, irrespective of its detailing. It is another building that doesn't just ignore, but denies its context. Such selfishness has no place in the public realm of a great city, or anywhere else.

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  • 20 Fenchurch Street is so overbearing upon it's context and has been so publicly flawed that I can see it causing a long pause in the development of tall towers in the City.

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