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A roaring success but don't deny the public

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Ken Powell gives an appropriate summing up of Merrill Lynch's new home (AJ 24.1.02) as both commercial (which it had to be) and civic (which all too few city developments are). Full marks to all, including the client who made it financially possible.

My only comments are additions to Powell's admirable research, and in particular its occupation by Christ's Hospital.

While the Survey of London's description of the school's move as 'among the worst and short sighted cases of vandalism' is understandable, it could not have been unexpected - the Newgate Street site had been all but sold to the Mid London Railway some 30 years before.

On the school's move in 1902, certain portions of the London building were incorporated into Aston Webb's new buildings - statuary, paintings such as Verrio's monumental canvas to the new dining hall, which in turn is flanked by two gatehouses by John Shaw (1829), previously part of the former cloisters. Wren's Christ Church Passage entrance (its site would be to the right of the photograph) was rather unhappily bedded into the south wall of Webb's school. Happily, this portion is now given more purpose facing Howell Killick Partridge Amis' recent music school and theatre.

In other words, a tale of dispersal followed in the 1920s by the Foundling Hospital nearby.

Like Powell, I applaud the degree of public access through the site and his disappointment that the glazed internal galleria is not open to the public.

Mention is made that the existing Edwardian post office facing King Edward Street will hold a public exhibition about this site, but there is currently no obvious evidence of this. Perhaps this could be resited in the galleria, already heavily monitored by security?

The Roman Wall and Bastion just to the west of the internal courtyard (below) 'had to be maintained as a publicly accessible exhibit' but to date is not open to the public, presumably due to security fears. This could be resolved by a redesign of the access doors here so that the public could view these important remains without entering the western section. Nevertheless, it demonstrates the problem of ensuring public access and makes me wonder how many of the mayor of London's vaunted highrise towers would in the event be freely open to the public.

Finally, while the reconstruction of the original footprint of Wren's ruined Christ Church, Newgate Street is welcome, I personally hope that it may be possible to totally reconstruct it in the future. However happy the current arrangement looks on plan, a garden facing the busy junction of Newgate and King Edward Streets flanked by short stumps of Wren walling is not the most attractive of layouts.

This could be an excellent high-profile site for a new city building information centre where, for example, current applications of the Heron Tower variety could be displayed.

These comments apart, the Merrill Lynch development is a delight and demonstrates a standard that could become the norm in London - also low-rise and using American architects' urban design skills!

Martin Andrews, London WC1

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