LSE professor Robert Tavernor has hit out at Richard Rogers for supporting the Lloyd’s Building’s listing during a debate on the merits of protecting post-war architecture
The high-profile townscape consultant said listing the iconic inside-out building was ‘ironic’ because it went against its original purpose to be flexible for future uses.
He said: ‘It’s odd that its listing was supported by Richards Rogers as [the building] is all about demonstrating flexibility – putting services on the outside of a building of a concrete frame, with stainless steel stairs and so on.’
He went on to argue any ‘better way of providing that type of servicing’ would be impossible in the future because of the listed status.
Lloyd’s became the UK’s youngest Grade I-listed building two years ago. At the time Rogers’ practice RSHP said it was ‘delighted’ by the decision, adding that it was ‘important to conserve buildings of architectural and historical’, but said the building should remain adaptable.
Tavernor said Lloyd’s itself ‘would have never happened’ if the original building it replaced had similar statutory protection. The 1986 structure replaced a 1925 building which some at the time tried to save.
The comments were made at an English Heritage and RIBA debate – chaired by AJ deputy editor Rory Olcayto – discussing the motion ‘This house believes that the best of best of England’s post-war buildings should be handed to the future’.
The other speakers were British Property Federation (BPF) chief executive Liz Peace - who warned ‘Spot listing [was] like a red rag to a bull’ - English Heritage designation director Roger Bowdler, Twentieth Century Society director Catherine Croft and former RIBA president Angela Brady who argued ‘the moral [of the story here] is to rise above fashion’.
Peace complained listing modern buildings was frustrating for BPF’s members because it blocked development and held back the economy.
She said: ‘Listing does not take into account the economic consequences. I can see why it doesn’t, but it is still vastly irritating when something is about to be listed and you are not able to advance, with the disadvantages that will cause in terms of economic growth, public investment and employment.’
‘The trouble is that these [post-war] buildings occupy the spaces of commerce and business where working practices have changed so drastically.’
Peace also suggested that there might be alternative ways of ‘recording’ buildings that would allow them to be demolished and redeveloped.
‘When a building has been listed because of a feature, that is perhaps just interesting for future students of architecture, it could be more accessible if simply recorded in a different form for people to see in the future. We don’t lack the means of recording buildings and features. Do we have to list the whole thing?’
Brady disagreed with the economic argument against listing. She said: ‘English Heritage is absolutely right to keep cost out of it, otherwise we would have every bloody developer saying: “Sorry, we can’t afford to keep it”. It’s the appreciation of our built environment. It’s about architectural history and merit. If we allow cost in, then we would just have the euthanasia of buildings.’
English Heritage is absolutely right to keep cost out of it
Brady suggested that the public’s appreciation for architecture was often a fashion and that Brutalist architecture should be protected as it may be better appreciated in the future.
‘Fashions in hating buildings do move on, just as fashions for loving heritage changes. Nothing is more despised than something that happened yesterday. But just as many find Victorian buildings were lost because they were unfashionable, it’s too easy to neglect and vilify Brutalism, and future generations will then condemn us for not protecting the best concrete [buildings] of the 1960s and 70s.’
Bowdler spoke of how listing in England differed from other countries, and the need to protect buildings just as they fell out of fashion.
‘Most other countries don’t dare think about listing till buildings are at least 50 years old. But we feel we can’t wait that long,’ he said. ‘We feel that buildings are at their most vulnerable when they are going through that dip, when they are no longer quite new, but certainly not historic.’
‘Maybe it’s an aspect of the post-war condition that we are able to assess our own modernity slightly dispassionately.’
Tavernor said he was against listing buildings as it ‘froze them in time’ and didn’t allow them to mature into better buildings.
He said: ‘Freezing modern buildings at a point of time before they have shown their true worth denies them that opportunity to age well, to achieve that pattern of use and worth that may alter them and may prove [to make them] better buildings.’
Tavernor compared Battersea Power Station with Bankside Power Station, the former which has lain derelict for decades and is now ‘a shell of its original intention’, while the Bankside station – now the Tate Modern – ‘received immunity from listing and has undergone an extraordinary new life.’
Buildings should be allowed to mature and shouldn’t be protected in any way
He said: ‘Buildings should be allowed to mature. They shouldn’t be protected in any way’
‘I’m against fossilised dinosaurs. I’m for Darwinian natural selection. And I want to get rid of this fear of loss, to have confidence not to list buildings, and to let them live a little first.
Croft defended the principle of listing post war buildings, and railed against Peace’s idea that there were alternative ways of ‘recording’ buildings other than protecting the buildings themselves.
‘I’m a passionate believer in the value of the actual thing rather than the recording [of it]. It’s very difficult to know what it is that actually embodies the story of a building and what it is that will convey that feeling to future generations. It’s the feeling of the spaces, it’s the smell of the spaces. No matter how good you get at recording things, you should still try and preserve the actual thing.’
Croft went on to say that although she agreed with the principle of listing post-war buildings ‘of special interest’, often the process ignored more ordinary examples of post-war architecture.
‘We do need to make sure we don’t concentrate on the best at the exclusion of the good or everyday. A lot of value of the architecture of the 19th century and previous generations is the good everyday stuff, the background stuff,’ she said. ‘[But] a large number of 50s office blocks have already gone, and a lot of the less innovative public housing of the post-war period has been rapidly changed.’
What the panelists thought about key post-war buildings
- Battersea Power Station:
Peace: ‘What has occurred on that site over the last 30 years shows what happens when you list something and get utterly transfixed with trying to preserve it. We now have very rich backers who seem to have bottomless pockets and who are prepared to go to the expense of maintaining the power station, but the quid pro quo is the very high density of the site in order to sustain the Power Station and to help the Northern Line extension get built.
‘We have now got a very sensible compromise which we should have got 10, 15 or 20 years ago by recognising the need to get an economically sustainable development in there. Five years ago I went on the record that we should knock the thing down if that’s the only way of getting the site developed. Because I didn’t think another 30 years of a derelict site of that significance would do London much good at all.’
Tavernor (who is involved in the team to redevelop the site): ‘My position is what it might have been like if it hadn’t been listed. [With the current development] nothing can rise higher than the chimneys.
The chimneys will be replaced
That’s a requirement of English Heritage, although the chimneys will be replaced.’
Croft: ‘The Battersea scheme involves a lot of building around the power station and some of the buildings go quite high. It would be good to have seen more of the building and to have more open space around it. The reason for this is that it has been sold on, and sold on and sold on, [so needs to be profitable] and it’s also got to provide money for the new Northern Line extension.’
Brady: ‘I love Battersea Power Station. I love its four chimneys. I don’t know if the new team are going to do it justice, I haven’t seen the plans yet, but it’s one of the big symbols of London. And if we don’t like what they do with it then we should protest against it.’
Bowdler: ‘The listing [of Battersea Power Station] has made sure that the debate has happened. It is a mighty monument to the age of power and it’s a monument to modernity, and it deserves to stay there. It’s an exceptional site, and what’s happening [will be] an extraordinary extension of the West End southwards.’
- Park Hill
Peace: ‘What is it that makes those [flats] spectacular? It’s an interesting location, stuck on that hill above the station in Sheffield. But we have actually taken most of what was there away. We have come to a compromise and we have managed to [create] some modern places that people are happy to live in. We actually took quite a lot of the history of the building away.
Olcayto: ‘English Heritage identified the structure of Park Hill as the defining characteristic of the building. I was wondering if that was the right conservation of the building? My understanding of what made the building unique was actually the floorplates and the levels that connected each end of the building across a huge expanse - it’s the ‘streets in the sky’ that we hear about when we talk about Park Hill.
Croft: ‘We were very unhappy about the amount of work that went on at Park Hill. It’s great that something could be saved, but we have undoubtedly lost something, we have lost the material qualities of the building.
We have undoubtedly lost something
‘We have also ended up with a scheme which has narrowed those ‘streets in the sky’, it’s a fundamental reworking.’
‘There could have been a middle ground between stripping it right back to its concrete frame, and keeping it as it was. It could have been possible to find a solution that did actually improve the quality of living in those flats that was less drastic. The listing was there, and that is what listing [should do].’
Bowdler: ‘If you want to see something happen, you need to make compromises. What makes it truly special? For us the essence of that project was about the skeleton and the layout of it, more than the actual fabric itself, it is the conception of it. But it was very much about negotiation.
Brady: ‘It’s about the people who live on that estate, it’s a very close community, and I think the people’s voices who wanted to stay there in that community was a very important part of the [project].’
Tavernor: ‘I am pro Park Hill. I don’t think that providing dwellings that are useful, pleasant to live in, that are part of 21st century expectations is necessarily about conservation. It is about providing people with something worthwhile, and in terms of sustainability, that was good sustainability of an existing building. The structure is there and has a particular frame to it. The fact that it’s material character has changed somewhat, that the insulation is better and meets modern needs is of course what a building should do.’
- Preston Bus Station
Olcayto: ‘Angela, you say the moral here is to rise above fashion. But then in your next sentence you say, ‘Save Preston Bus Station!’. Isn’t Preston Bus station’s ‘rescue’ an example of fashion. Even BDP, which designed a replacement for their own bus station, changed its mind when a certain number of critics with influential voices, and the Culture Show, and so on picked up the cause, popularised it, made it fashionable. So maybe fashion can be helpful.’
Croft: ‘We’re delighted that Preston Bus Station has been listed, but that can’t be the end of the story.’
Brady: ‘Preston Bus Station represents a Brutalist iconic building of its age, which sits within the architectural pages of history, and today is one of the best of Preston’s quality buildings. Hopefully the building will be retained within the community and will find some new uses to bring it into a happier form. It wasn’t just fashion, it was an appreciation of those pages of history, which were going to be ripped out.’
- Southbank Centre
Olcayto: ‘Personally I find skateboarders’ rights over-represented in urban design. I can’t stand skateboarders but I’ll do a Voltaire and speak up for their rights. If that building had been listed, the patina of use that Robert values so much, in this case, the undercroft that has become such a focal point for skateboarding culture across the world, would have been saved.’
Tavernor: ‘With the skateboard situation, the notion that they should be given a special arena somewhere else is nonsense, isn’t it? There’s the equivalent in ancient Roman cities where you had an amphitheatre and people would build houses over it. If you go to Piazza Navona or somewhere like that people say ‘What a wonderful space’. The original architects didn’t build that, it grew into something new. That’s what you want in a modern city, layer upon layer.’
Brady: ‘The graffiti there is fantastic. That’s a work of art in itself, I mean, there’s so much good stuff, it’s a tourist attraction, the kids have great fun and they have nowhere to go, and moving it somewhere else is not going to work.’
I constantly find people who can’t believe the Southbank Centre is not listed
Croft: ‘The Southbank Centre and Hayward Gallery are not listed, and I constantly find people who can’t believe [the buildings aren’t] listed.’
- Commonwealth Institute:
Croft: ‘The Design Museum is moving [to the Commonwealth Institute] and I am reserving judgement till I can see it in the flesh. But we have now ended up with something that is surrounded by towers and can’t actually be seen from the main road and I think that is a result of not really believing in the value of the building. It was sold on with inflated expectations of how much money could be made from the site.’
- Barbican Centre
Bowdler: ‘When you stand in front of the Barbican, and bask in its power and its vision, you realise that you are looking at history unfold.’
Rogers criticised during post-war debate for supporting Lloyd’s listing