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Parry's skyscraper: unlikely designer, pleasing design

Rory Olcayto
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When they are civic-minded, skyscrapers and ground-up regen are both valid and central to London’s future,

So London has a new skyscraper, set to be the tallest in the City, and believe it or not, it has been designed by Eric Parry. When rumours around this now-verified fact began circulating late last year, few of us at, ahem, AJ Towers (all five storeys of it) quite believed them. Eric Parry, the cultured auteur of delicate beauties such as Bath’s Holborne Museum and 50 New Bond Street, designing a tower to rival the Shard in height? Never.

Then in February a super-trustworthy source confirmed it for us. Back then, all we had was the story. No pictures. So we wondered what it might look like. I had Ghostbusters in my head: stone gargoyles, solid masonry base, windows in the manner of a New York 30s skyscraper. I was imagining an extruded version of Holborne, which has a splendid Gothic quality to it. Daft, I know.

Still, Parry’s proposal – a 73-storey glass box with an exoskeleton of X-shaped struts and thin strips of white enameled louvres – was as surprising as the original news that he was lined up to design a skyscraper. All the talk is of its deference to the school of Mies van der Rohe, but I see more of Rogers, Foster and Piano in there. The open lobby at the base is a direct borrow from its Cheesegrater neighbour, the X-struts from Foster’s Hearst Tower in New York, and the enameled louvres a nod to Piano’s tower for the New York Times.

London’s chief skyscraper-baiters, Rowan Moore and Olly Wainwright, of the Observer and Guardian respectively, have nodded approval, largely on the basis that it is not wibbly-wobbly. I wouldn’t disagree, although the biggest positive is the free-to-access viewing gallery at its peak, served by its own special lifts. If London is to grow ever taller, spaces like these should be compulsory.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow…

Assemble, a collective of architecture graduates, among others, who have led the redevelopment of a run-down Liverpool neighbourhood, has won the Turner Prize. ‘Take that art world,’ wrote Phin Harper, deputy director of the Architecture Foundation, moments after the announcement on Channel 4’s live broadcast from the Tramway in Glasgow. Really, though, it’s more, ‘take that architecture world’. Assemble has struck a chord with the public and with the art world too. Judges praised ‘a ground-up approach to regeneration, city planning and development in opposition to corporate gentrification’. They are right. Assemble’s work is more imaginative, more inclusive – and cheaper – than most architect-led regen happening today. Hats off.

And in other news

After more than seven years at The Architects’ Journal, I’m moving on. I’ve been appointed Victoria Thornton’s successor as director of Open-City, the charity focused on increasing access to architecture and design for all London’s citizens, and will take up this new role in March. I relish the challenge, and look forward to working with the likes of Parry and Assemble – and the public – in defining a more equitable built environment for all of us. Skyscrapers and ground-up regen are both valid forms of urban development and central to London’s future. As long as they’re civic-minded, they needn’t be in opposition.

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