Labour's man Stuart King writes to Putney
Architecture- the good the bad & the ugly
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Fads sweep through all aspects of society, and politics is no different. We’re in the midst of a phase where everyone has suddenly become green, which for those of us talking about these issues when no-one was listening is to be welcomed, if a little ironic.

In architecture the current fad is for high rise “landmark” buildings. This is, in part, driven by the high cost and scarcity of land in London, which encourages developers to maximise their investment by building up.

In part, politicians have driven this: London Mayor Ken Livingstone has been a champion of landmark buildings in the City in his successful efforts to transform our Capital into a world-class city. It worked in respect of 30 St Mary Axe (the Gherkin), but has gone too far when it starts impinging on the historic views of St Paul’s Cathedral from King Henry’s Mount in Richmond Park. High buildings have also been a political means of getting significant amounts of affordable housing built as part of far larger private developments.

Putney and the surrounding area are not immune to this fad. Recently we’ve had plans for “landmark” tower blocks revealed for the Ram Brewery site in Wandsworth town and for the triangle of land immediately opposite East Putney Station in Upper Richmond Road.

As with fashion, fads tend to have a short lifespan, disappear for a couple of decades, and then return, recycled as fabulous innovation. High rises are hardly new – you only have to look at Battersea, which “boasts” over 100 high rise blocks. The difference between now and the 1950s is that it’s affluent young professionals fuelling the demand for high rise living now, rather than the need to provide affordable homes in the immediate post war era.

The problem with fads is that for every Gherkin, there are ten or more grotesque buildings that we get saddled with for a generation. I’m all in favour of bold, new architecture of an appropriate scale and context. Putney is an historic constituency with fantastic old buildings and some not so special newer ones. We owe a duty not only to ourselves, but also to future generations to pay special attention to approving landmark buildings. I don’t want the character of Putney to change - less bustling, less crowded, less congested, to change.

At the time the Arndale estate in Wandsworth Town was built, we had the same gushing, fawning praise of this radical and bold new architecture, the fantastic facilities it would offer, the regeneration (though that’s a word of today) possibilities for the area and the high quality homes in the sky its lucky residents would benefit from.

I talked to quite a few of the residents of that estate recently – beset with flooding problems whenever it rains, anti-social behaviour; lifts that break down regularly, cracks that appear in high winds, lino in communal areas that hasn’t been laid properly and bubbles up; refuse chutes that stink to high heaven when they’re not blocked; and homes that need not only controlled entry systems at their front door but on every single floor to give residents a basic level of security.

So my point is that we must hold “bold”, “innovative”, “radical”, “modern” and “landmark” buildings to a higher standard – because they will impact upon our lives, shape our communities, define how our area is perceived and dominate our environment for a generation. I hope our planners make sure that these buildings aren’t just a fad – because unlike children’s scooters, these buildings can’t be disposed of on e-bay when we’re tired of them.

Stuart King

Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Putney

April 2, 2008