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What was all the fuss over Paternoster for?

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It was with a mixture of amusement and cynicism that I read your headline last week: 'Paternoster Square saga reaches a happy ending' (aj 23.7.98). So Michael Hopkins and Richard MacCormac, among others, are to design buildings to a masterplan by Sir William Whitfield. This is surely not so very different from exactly the same architects working with the original winner of the competition, Arup Associates, on their classical-modern proposal which was so disgracefully traduced by the Prince of Wales.

Now that, apparently, the style wars are over, perhaps it is time to reflect on the wasted energy and the suspect arguments used by both sides in controversy over how this important site should be developed. In retrospect, the ambitions, and indeed the strategies, of all three design groups who have attempted to deal with this site had as much in common as they had elements which separated them. All wish to pay more respect to St Paul's itself. All have substantial public elements. All pay their respects to the classical past.

What Sir William has achieved, and which was not attempted by the others (I am pretty sure) is the bringing of everything to ground level. One might have expected the Terry Farrell proposals to have attempted this, especially given his plans for the South Bank which had precisely this objective. Let us hope that the latest scheme can produce buildings of real quality within a plan which is a cause for congratulation. And perhaps the next time such a controversy arises, we can deal with the issues with more perspicacity, less taking of entrenched positions, and, with all respect, greater maturity on the part of our architectural media.


London EC4

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