London Wall Place review – a high walk back to the future
Source:theguardian Author:Rowan Moore Date: 2018-07-02 Size:
Of all the things once considered wrong about modernist architecture……

An elevated walkway at London Wall Place passes over the Roman remains of St Alphage church in the City of London. Photograph: Martina Ferrera/Make Architects

Of all the things once considered wrong about modernist architecture – dirty concrete, leaking flat roofs, lack of human scale, its supposed propensity to breed vandalism, crime and social isolation – the concept considered most plainly wrong, still outcast after years of revisionism, is the fondness for lifting pedestrians above ground level on to walkways and “streets in the air”. What you want is old-fashioned, non-airborne streets, goes the consensus, feet on pavements in front of the shops. If streets were meant to fly, they would have been given wings. Or something like that.

This is sound advice, much of the time, but all rules have exceptions. And it’s striking that the most enjoyable recent example of what developers like to call “public realm”, a zone beneath what might otherwise be a familiar type of high-end office building in the City of London, is special precisely because you can move around it on different levels. I’d also say it’s the most inspired moment to date in the career of the architectural practice Make, founded in 2004 by an ex-partner of Norman Foster’s practice, Ken Shuttleworth.

Credit is also due to Antonio Sant’Elia, the 28-year-old Italian architect killed in October 1916 in the futile Eighth Battle of the Isonzo, whose powerful drawings of an imaginary modern city, all thrusting towers and multilevel transport, have inspired sci-fi films from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and future-gazing architects such as Le Corbusier and the German Ludwig Hilberseimer. One descendant of Sant’Elia’s ideas was the postwar reconstruction of the bombed-out zone of the City known as London Wall.

The new pedways are more playful and dramatic than the rational originals. They hover over water and jump across roads

Here a mighty road was laid out, codenamed Route 11, flanked by a regular rhythm of oblong glass towers. Pedestrians were lifted above cars on mildly vertiginous bridges, which in turn were to form part of a network of elevated “pedways” that was planned to cover most of the City of London. The owlish architectural critic Nikolaus Pevsner, for one, loved it, only lamenting that Route 11 was too short. No sooner had he put the pedal to the metal of his Morris Minor at one end than he had to hit the brakes at the other.

From the 1980s onwards, London Wall underwent another transformation, as the managed planning of previous decades gave way to the deregulating zeal of the big bang and the City’s desire to compete with its emerging rival at Canary Wharf. The uniform oblong towers were replaced by bulkier, broad-shouldered, hustling blocks, creating a free-market canyon of competing postmodern and hi-tech styles. The pedway concept, meanwhile, withered. The network was left incomplete, with dead ends, bridges to nowhere and forlorn podia, the tut-tutting of retrospective soothsayers drifting like litter across them. Here was the proof that pavements should stay on the ground.

Make’s project goes back to 2009. A plan to build a new headquarters for JP Morgan had just been shot down by the vociferous, informed and influential residents of the neighbouring Barbican, to predictable counterclaims that they had thereby dealt a fatal blow to the competitiveness of the City of London. But it was clear that some tact and wit would be needed to get planning permission. The developers, Hammerson, took on the site, ran an architectural competition and chose Make. The site was later sold to Brookfield Properties and Oxford Properties, who built the development that stands there now.

‘Multidimensional in time and space’: more sections of pedway have been added to reconnect and extend the original postwar network. Photograph: Martina Ferrera / Make Architects

It was central to Make’s design that the stubs and relics of the elevated walkways should be celebrated and enhanced. It turned out, among other things, that those awkward residents – the Barbican itself being the most complete fulfilment of the pedway dream – quite liked the ability to get across busy roads without having to tangle with traffic. So the architects proposed more bridges, not fewer, to help reconnect the tattered network.

The new pedways are more playful and dramatic than the rational originals. They curve and wind. They duck into the shade of overhanging buildings and emerge into light, hover over water and jump across roads. They are clad in rust-coloured pre-oxidised steel, part of a mildly fetishistic palette of materials that also includes ultra-white glass-reinforced concrete and black, ribbed expanses of faience tiling. They are wide enough to make room for benches in tropical hardwood and steel – you are supposed to “dwell” there, says Sam Potter of Make, rather than just “pass through”.

They do not exist in isolation but are part of a wider idea of a multilayered open space. The postwar vision of the Corporation of London, being softer than Sant’Elia’s desire to sweep everything away and start again, included the retention of relics of the City’s Roman wall and the remnants of the medieval church of St Alphage, as well as the pleasant, publicly accessible garden of the Salters’ livery company, slightly sunken and sheltered by topiary. Tones of earth and off-white, plus the green of 27 new trees, unify the potentially disparate assembly.

Photograph: Martina Ferrera / Make Architects

Above, lest it be forgotten, is the primary purpose of the endeavour, 500,000 sq ft of office space distributed in two blocks, one of them due to be occupied by the global asset manager Schroders. These are rendered in a vigorous style, a bit art deco in its striations of white concrete and dark tiles, a bit brutalist in the exaggeration of its projections and recessions, the whole levitating over the bridges and gardens like a hovering Rockefeller Centre.

Usually, public realm is a bland affair, a case, as Potter puts it, of making “a square waiting for activity which then has to be framed by retail”. Here it is multidimensional in time and space, an ancient-futuristic reposeful-energetic hybrid whose range of moods runs from the placid fall of leaf shadows on ancient walls to the dynamic reflection of car headlights in black ceramic soffits. Potential cliches of public space – pools of water, old fragments – are given life.

It has, for sure, some of the inevitable managed quality of developer-made public space, although Make says all the right things about ensuring it is genuinely accessible to all. It’s not a place for radical gatherings or avant-garde cultural events. Sometimes, Make being a practice rarely given to restraint, there’s one motif too many, in particular with the jaunty masts and stays, in shiny stainless steel, that support some of the bridges.

But this three-dimensional zone at the base of London Wall Place is a place in its own right, not a corporate appendage. It does not feel, as is sometimes the case, like an outward extension of an office foyer or atrium. Its strength, as in other successful open spaces, is that it is not exactly like other successful open spaces. The reason for this is that its architects drew on what was already there, including those dreaded elevated walkways.

[Editor] 张艳

    Artintern