The rise and rise of ugly buildings

An inelegant new neighbour to Foyles bookshop on London’s Charing Cross Road is typical of buildings whose components seem to have met on a blind date. So how do they end up like this? It would have looked good in the drawings: a balanced elevation of horizontals and verticals, solid and void, given depth with concave and convex panels, animated with patterns of roses in low relief. Echoes were possibly intended of the great Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries invested his pioneering structures with delightful ornament. Echoes, too, of Caruso St John and other contemporary architects, who for a decade or so have been reviving a Sullivanesque use of pattern. Yet this nine-storey creative industries development (plus four storeys underground), now rising in Charing Cross Road in London, doesn’t have the grace that this description suggests. Called Ilona Rose House, it is placed where Foyles bookshop once was, before that famous literary institution moved to a site next door. The new building’s inelegance is partly a matter of scale, for as with almost every new commercial building its volume has been amped up to maximise valuable floorspace. It is also a matter of detail – those rose patterns look mechanical and dead, and conspicuous joints between the panels give it an unsubstantial, just-bolted-together feel. Continue reading...

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