August 17, 2003
Office Trends on office trends

Adam Tinworth commented on this Samizdata piece of mine about these buildings, and linked to it from his own blog. When I responded with another comment, Adam emailed me and offered me a copy of the magazine he edits, which is called Office Trends. He sent me the May edition, which has a picture of the Gherkin on the front.

It contains much of interest. This is my first posting reacting to this publication's contents, but it will not be my last.

Adam's editorial (p. 9) starts with this intriguing question:

Why do the really interesting buildings always start going up just as the market turns?

Which is an interesting question to ask about interesting buildings. The relationship between spectacularly fine buildings and spectacularly bad management decisionmaking has long attracted comment, esepecially when it comes to custom built headquarters, which have the knack of being built on the ruins of the enterprise that was supposedly about to occupy them, and at the very least of doing severe damage by diverting top management attention away from the job they are supposed to be doing, and towards their lovely new building.

In general, I feel that the economics of architecture is that it is rather like the economics of higher education. Like diamonds for the wives of rich people, flash buildings are more a symtom of econmic success than a cause of it. But like diamonds, they are very pretty.

Adam continues:

There is no doubt that 30 St Mary Axe, the infamous "erotic gherkin" is the most impressive and innovative addition to London's skyline in decades.

My sentiments exactly.

While Tower 42, once known as the NatWest tower, was a huge branding coup in its day, it lacks the aesthetic appeal of the newcomer.

Indeed.

Canary Wharf, for all its height and (eventual success has near duplicates in many cities worldwide.

Presumably Adam, being the editor of Office Trends, has to be polite about this boring great lump, because it is a major office building..

Adam then goes on to draw his readers' attention to the piece by Piers Wehner (p. 38), and about that I'll do a separate posting.

Also in the issue is mention of Renzo Piano's London Bridge Tower, already commented upon here, which is apparently going to get built. One of a number of Micklethwait's Laws states that with new architecture you can't tell whether it will look good until it's built. Meanwhile, according to the faked-up pictures of it that I've seen, the top of it makes it look like a paper dart that has had the pristine perfection of its pointed nose rumpled by a collision, but which still points upwards in a determined manner as if all was well. I see that in my previous post about this building I said I feared it would look unfinished. I should have said slightly damaged.

There's also a discussion (p. 2) of another new tower that is apparently going to be built in New York, on top of another famous older building:

Lord Foster's first project in New York will be a 42-storey tower extension to create a landmark headquarters for the Hearst Corporation.

Located at 959 Eighth Avenue at 57th Street, the new HQ will also fulfil William Randolph Hearst's vision of a world-class tower at the site. The extension will surmount the company's existing art deco building commissioned by the famous media magnate, and designed by the émigré Austrian architect Jospeh Urban.

The six-storey masonry block, completed in 1928, was always intended to be topped by a tower, althoguh no designs were ever recorded. Seventy years later, the tower addition, combined with a remodelling of the original base, will provide an extra 1m sq ft of space for one of America's largest communications companies.

Lord Foster said: "The new Hearst Tower will express its own time with distinction, yet respects the existing six-storey historical structure. The tower is lifted clear of its historic base, linked on the outside only by columns and glazing, which are set back from the edges of the site. The transparent connection floods the spaces below with natural light and encourages the impression of the new floating above the old."

Well, that's not what a lot of locals think. A lot of them apparently think that this is the new crushing the daylights out of the old, and pretty much destroying it.

The principle embodied in this scheme, of towers rising above the old city frontages rather than just smashing them and replacing them with empty windswept spaces with pointless sculptures in them strikes me as a good one. Similar things are being done in London, right near me, and they look rather good.

And here, I think, is a case where the computerised publicity photos may be giving a false impression of how bad the new building is going to end up looking. I suspect that when it is finally built, the old building will assert itself more firmly in the eyes of passers by, and that the new building will indeed look more like a polite aerial addition and less like an imposition than is now feared. I think that the pictures, being views from a distance, understate the impact that the old bulding will continue to make on passers by.

Office Trends has a much better picture of this tower than I could find with my brief googling. But Office Trends is, I think, a strictly paper enterprise. My apologies to Adam Tinworth if I'm wrong about this, but I could find no Office Trends website mentioned anywhere. This, mentioned by Adam in his original Samizdata comment is the nearest thing to that I could find.

Office Trends update. Adam's one blog piece, I've just noticed, contains the news that Office Trends is to be replaced by a new publication, called GRID. Maybe this will have a website. "GRID" sounds to me like it will.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:16 PM
Category: Architecture