Our heritage is protected by the listings process, but should we preserve at all costs, or conserve to breathe new life into our architectural heritage?
The adaptation of old buildings presents a compelling challenge to architects. It also places a huge responsibility on building owners to choose the right architects to minimise risk and offer a vision of the future. If the right choice of architect is made, should listing still be a necessary prerequisite?
Ultimately, it comes down to quality and commissioning. Where this is ignored, listing must come into play. But, where it is fully embraced, the results speak for themselves. Louis Kahn’s memorable Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven has been recently returned to its former glory by New York based Polshek Partnership Architects. Stuart Lipton has compiled a Who’s Who list of architects, including Rem Koolhaas and Rafael Viñoly, who are vying to bring west London’s Commonwealth Institute into the 21st century.
The possible listing of Richard Rogers’ Lloyd’s Building, which I worked on as a site architect, sums up this dilemma. Lloyd’s is undoubtedly a building of world stature; a genuine one-off with extraordinary built quality. Although it has picked up a few detractors along the way, its architectural pedigree is recognised by many (it is former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell’s favourite building) and it has become a veritable 20th-century architectural icon. Perhaps listing was always a question of when, rather than if. Yet Lloyd’s is a building of deliberate flexibility, designed for change not constraint – flexibility is the essence of its design. How ironic it would be if its iconic status ultimately stymied its design.
On the face of it there should be little cause to change the external appearance of the Lloyd’s Building. Lloyd’s has invested heavily in maintaining its highly articulated good looks. However, Lloyd’s now competes with the likes of the adjacent Willis Building and Swiss Re, both by Foster + Partners, and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ exciting Leadenhall Tower, currently under construction.
From the off, Lloyd’s had a modernising approach; the 1986 building replaced Edwin Cooper’s 1929 building, itself listed, and a fine if outmoded building. This tradition should continue.
Buildings need to change or they will decline. We should ensure that the protective blanket of listing provides security, not suffocation.
Marcus Lee is a director of Flacq