July 15, 2004
The London Assembly building – not as great as the early pictures

Architecture is difficult. I keep saying that. And I keep saying it because it is true.

You produce really cool pictures of how it will look, but you never really know how it will turn out.

Take the London Assembly building. The Man Behind the Gherkin was also the man behind this, and you all here know that I worship the Gherkin more than life itself.

The London Assembly building, on the other hand, seems to me to display a definite diminution from vision to result, from imagination to execution.

LondonAssembly1.jpg    LondonAssembly2.jpg

On the left is a 1999 publicity concoction, which I found here and I think it looks really great. Like a really expensive headlight on a really expensive car. And notice that at this stage it sticks out over the river, rather than just parked down beside it.

The picture on the right is attached to a January 2003 Guardian story (where the whole Ken Shuttleworth really did this thing is gone into. Can that be the thing itself? No, I think that's another projection of how it's going to look rather than how it really does look. And whereas it doesn't look as cool as the first picture, but it still looks moderately ool. It's not a really cool car headlight. More like an alien egg. But still, as I say, cool. Ish.

And then we have the thing itself, photoed by me a week or two ago.

LondonAssembly3.jpg

To me, this looks ever so slightly like a lump of clay on a wheel, slapped down, and not yet straight. Worse, when you are actually there, the curvedness of the floors makes you think it's all leaning over. And something very bad has happened to the ground floor. It ought to curve into the ground continuously. This thing just sits of a plinth that is too small for it. And unlike the bottom of the Gherkin, lots of people get to see the bottom floor of this thing.

Got it. I think I know the big thing wrong with this, looking at it some more. The problem is that it doesn't start out at the bottom by curving outwards enough. At the back, it still goes out a bit, but this is the big difference between the early pictures and the final object, and that is what makes the final object look so comparatively uncool, or, in English, more earthbound.

Plus, I think maybe this is an object that looks its worst when you look up at it from ground level, as I did with my camera, and as the first two pictures above do not. The first looks down on it, and the second looks at it sideways, but not up.

And what's that ziggy zaggy thing about, with the windows at the front. The original headlight effect was far better, I think.

That's how it looks to me, anyway. Of course, if you like it, I'm happy for you, and I'm only judging this thing by the highest possible standards. What I'm saying is: the Gherkin it's not. (For starters it isn't nearly big enough for the curvey style to really work well.) But what, apart from the Gherkin, is the Gherkin? The London Assembly building is still a fun addition to the riverside. Politically … well, that's another argument.

I mean, at least it isn't this Palestra thing, which seems to me to have given up even trying to be interesting. The website is as cool as it's ever going to get, I'd say. Although, the fact that the early pictures can be wrong could be good, with the final object turning out much better than the pictures. But if that happens here, I will … be surprised. Either way, I'll show photos of it here when they finish it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:04 AM
Category: Architecture