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Design for the individual not the street

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Kenneth Powell praises Swanke Hayden Connell's new Winchester House in the city (aj 20.5.99) is as 'conspicuously well crafted and...a sincere effort to enhance the public domain', in contrast to the previous Winchester House 'completed in 1968 and consisting of a 22-storey office tower set on a podium ... mean, dull, and utterly at odds with its surroundings'. He admits, however, that the office accommodation provided in the new horizontal format, comprising three floors each of around 4600m2 and accommodating up to 650 dealers per floor is a 'dealing factory of a configuration which would not be permitted in Germany but which is typical of London'.

This is surely the nub of the matter. The slab-on-a-podium format reflected the Modern Movement's focus on providing the optimum conditions for the individual occupying a building, in terms of light, outlook, quiet, and humane conditions generally. Nothing illustrates this objective more clearly than Le Corbusier's sketch of an office interior as he imagined it in his proposed Algiers tower of 1938 (above). The tower-on-a-podium was intended to approach these conditions by providing shallow, naturally lit space removed from the canyon of the street. Contrast this with the view you publish of an interior in the new Winchester House - deep plan, with the individual remote from light, view, air, quiet, or privacy, narrow windows looking out into the dark chasm of the street.

For my money, the 'public domain' has got to conform to what produces good conditions for the individual, not the other way round.

James Dunnett

London N1

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