Tuesday, 20 July 2010

A new White Elephant rises at the Elephant and Castle

London’s tallest residential tower block, Strata SE1, has now been completed. At 43 storeys, the 485 foot monolith with its crazy zebra striped window pattern and circular turbine top stands out for miles. Like a sore thumb.

310 of the apartments will be privately owned, with a further 98 on the lower floors set aside for shared ownership for local people. It’s envisaged that many of these will be occupied by residents from the nearby Heygate Estate, another post-war, brutal, barrack-like architectural disaster, which has been beset with problems. As for being hailed as an innovation in the ‘green’ sense, in that the wind turbines are expected to supply 8% of the tower’s total energy requirement, I would interested to know how much of this will be expended in working the lifts.

As an artist, I can’t help feeling affronted by what I see as the total lack of sensitivity and proportion that is inherent in most modern architecture. Relativity of scale, together with personalised expression of artistic detail are sadly lacking. I see brash, modern glass-monopolised constructions like this as hugely reflective of the malign forces at work in society: the state, and big business, not to mention globalisation riding rough-shod over the interests and preferences of the individual.

Contemporary architecture, indeed like most forms of modern art, is the product of the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ syndrome. We’re told it has merit. We’re told to appreciate it- like it or lump it. Because the artistic elite have got us exactly where they want us: only they know best. It’s an almost exact parallel to the current political situation isn’t it?

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