London Architecture in the New Millennium

The twenty-first century bought the dawning of a new age to the London skyline. Three constructions in particular, the Gherkin, the Greater London Authority Building and the Millennium Wheel heralded what seemed at the time a new uncertain and yet exciting architectural era for London. All three, of course, had quickly followed the renaissance of the Bankside Power Station as the Tate Modern, which truly heralded the arrival of contemporary art into the heart of London, and put contemporary art at the forefront of London’s art scene, with its supercavernous Turbine Hall, and with good proportion of the museum being free to access. Rowan Moore of the Evening Standard commented, “The curved forms of the Gherkin and the Greater London Authority and the almost surreal placing of a giant wheel, in the heart of establishment London, were at the heart of the vanguard, they seemed to be the doorway into a new and uncertain architectural and technological future, it felt the first step in a gallop and jump towards a new age.” Style City London (2006) put it, ‘With their curvilinear forms on prominent riverside positions and their manifest high technology and transparency, these buildings signal London’s openness to modernity and new forms of expression’. Moore, writing for the Evening Standard described the excitement at the time, ‘London’s best architects, long starved of opportunities in their home city, were on a roll. The established names such as Norman Foster boomed, with the bridge, the Great Court, the makeover of Trafalgar Square, the Gherkin, Wembley Stadium and the slightly less wonderful City Hall to his name.’

However this new dawn, this new age in London’s architectural history was an age that quite frankly, never really came. Consistent with my thesis that London’s prevailing architectural style is forever changing, no sooner had this curvilinear bubble world come to London, than it had been eclipsed by a hodge podge of straight edge, and rather drab John Major like, erections, the kind he might have had for Edwina Currie. Rowan Moore of the Evening Standard therefore describes the first decade of the new millennium as almost London’s great decade of architecture. He bemoaned the decisions by London’s development chiefs, ‘Mayor Livingstone’s enthusiasm for development turned out to be greater than his love of design, and some truly revolting building were permitted under the pretence that they were ‘iconic’ or ‘quality’ projects. Architecture, it turned out, was little more than a lubricant for the sodomizing of the skyline. Fuelled by the buy-to-let frenzy, blocks of flats were built that no one whose brain was not addled by property prices would want to live in, as witness the parade of trash that now runs along Stratford High Street.’ The Gherkin then is like an icon of potential unfulfilled, signifying the new age into which London has dipped its toe, but which decided not to bathe itself in.

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