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Astragal: Go compare these Brutalist gems



The revival of Brutalism and its rehabilitation in the eyes of the man on the street must surely be complete. A web-only exhibition, Concrete Feats, toasting the globe’s finest tough-nut concrete buildings, recently popped up, sponsored by … wait for it …  Gocompare.com.

The ubiquitous insurance comparison site – known for its more Neoclassical opera singer – wanted, apparently, to further educate its audience about the joys of béton brut.

The link with home insurance seems tenuous, and the website features little that the architectural world wouldn’t already be familiar with. But the bespoke artwork in this online oddity is surprisingly good.

Gulls’ happy meal roof hazard

Victoria station roof

Victoria station roof

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s … actually you were right first time. It was a bird.

Fingers are being pointed at our avian friends for the failure of part of the EFTE-clad roof at Victoria Station in Manchester, which gave way last October.

Readers will remember how two people were injured as gallons of water fell on passengers when the pillow-like panel broke. The station’s main concourse also had to be closed off over fears other parts of the 10,000m² roof could collapse.

The incident at the station, which reopened in 2015 after a £44 million upgrade led by BDP, followed unusually heavy rain (even for Manchester). 

Now a report into the incident by Network Rail has found that the real culprits were hungry seagulls who had punctured the EFTE pillows with their beaks. One theory is that the gulls were attracted by the smell from the McDonalds below rising up from a nearby ventilation unit. 

La Défense on the offensive

Paris la défense seen from tour saint jacques 2013 08

Paris la défense seen from tour saint jacques 2013 08

Source: By Zinneke - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27736568

Paris’s out-of-town La Défense business district has predictably seized the opportunity to attract banks and financial institutions fleeing post-Brexit Britain with a catchy new slogan ‘Tired of the Fog? Try the frogs’ – though it does suggest its creator is stuck somewhere in the 1950s. 

As part of the aggressive marketing push, the French capital’s answer to Canary Wharf has also announced that it will deliver seven ‘new’ skyscraper projects totalling 375,000m² of fresh office space over the next five years. 

These include Jean Nouvel’s 220m-tall Hekla, unveiled last summer; Christian de Portzamparc’s Tours Sisters, first proposed in 2015; and the 320m-tall Hermitage Plaza revealed by Foster + Partners way back in 2008 and so – like the others – not very new at all. 

Is Heseltine’s job make-believe?



There were nervous moments on the AJ newsdesk after former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine vowed to lead a rebellion on Brexit in the House of Lords in a self-penned piece in the Mail on Sunday. This was followed by speculation he might be sacked from his position as co-chair of the government’s estates regeneration panel, rather pulling the rug out from under the AJ’s forthcoming interview with the Tory peer. 

As we went to press, however, he seems to have got away with his tirade. Or has he? On the government website Heseltine is described as an adviser to the department for ‘communities and local growth’ – a department that, to Astragal’s knowledge, is wholly fictitious.

UPDATE: Heseltine has now been sacked all his government advisory roles – fictional or otherwise.

Thumbs down from Amanda Levete

Amanda Levete by Peter Guenzel

Amanda Levete by Peter Guenzel

Source: Peter Guenzel

Amanda Levete, it would appear, is not a believer in solidarity among the profession. 

In an interview with The Times last weekend, the architect, who designed the recently opened Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) in Lisbon, said: ‘Only 10 per cent of architects are any good … Look around London – how many projects in the past few years could you say were really great? A handful.’ 

Levete went on to describe some of the ongoing works in Battersea, south London, as ‘horrendous’.




Readers' comments (4)

  • I thought that Amanda Levete's comments on Battersea might have been sparked by the view from the train going into Waterloo from the west - the 'shard' looms on the horizon from afar, but once you're past Clapham Junction the sheer awfulness of some of the modern towers between the railway and the river is an indictment not just of the planning system but of the quality of the architects that designed them. Among the crudest are the series of gull-wing roofed towers on Wandsworth Road by Vauxhall station, but they're not alone; a spectacular parade of architectural crap.

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  • The problem is that she is part of that horrendous 10%.

    Her work tends to be gimmicky and crass, where one technological innovation or idea dominates the whole project. It's overly brand conscious, like architecture for the twitter age. It reminds me of a teenager dying their hair purple to stand out from the crowd.

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  • Mr Wakeham: Harsh

    Mr Huxtable: Very Harsh

    Presumably both have produced great buildings to which we can only aspire, then lay back and admire?

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  • Not harsh at all - you'd need to be really rather uncouth not to realise how extraordinarily bad some of the Battersea blocks are.

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