By Iraz Akkus

For Fabian, with whom I spent hours talking about the new builds in London. 

If you’re not a Londoner or a university student who, on account of being late to everything, rushes around the streets of London head down, Pret in hand, then you can more clearly see the mish-mash of infrastructure styles that crowd around you. Through Roman, Norman, Georgian, Victorian and now contemporary trends, London is filled with centuries of period architecture, each bearing its own unique stamp.

They may not all make perfect sense together but there is at least something we can attest to each of the periods, in terms or their typical characteristics and markings, apart from the latter. What contemporary buildings seem to share in characteristics is that they all lack, well, character. 

Construction, and therefore buildings, now, on the whole, seem to focus on how we can get best value for money, in terms of resources like labour and material: trading patience and craftsmanship for efficiency and utility. Allowing the mastery of stonemasons and carvers to be passed down to fewer and fewer people on account of their high cost and society’s disinterest. Unless it’s literally labelled as fine art in museums or the window of art shops being auctioned off for hundreds of pounds, there seems to be a detachment from creating and appreciating beauty in buildings that surround us. There is such a rush to get infrastructure built, sold and put into use, it doesn’t seem to matter about creating more than just four walls and a roof. 

Of course this doesn’t apply for huge, powerful banks or fancy law firms who commission artists and architects to make a hideous, ‘abstract’ block of plastic to act as a centrepiece in the most impractical reception with the most unwelcoming seating areas, which, by the way, have literally never been used by more than a dozen people in the history of the firm. All of this is merely for show and not actual appreciation for craftsmanship and art. 

The outside of the buildings are even worse – plastered all in rigid, darkened glass, or if they’re feeling extra showy, curved glass (which is ironic given they spend 18 hours a day making shady deals out of public view –  totally nullifying the ‘transparent’ core values they preach year in year out). The City will turn even more tragic when 11 new skyscrapers are added to the already crowded and monolithic skyline. Plans to get a twin of the Shard on this side of the river, adding yet another commercial vacuum that will emphasise their copy-and-paste company ethos climbing over 300m with their copy-and-paste crystal structure.

Just as the media are getting obsessed with boys having to be 6ft and over, architects similarly seem to only value projects 20 stories or higher. Skyscrapers rule the landscape of London, with their charm only being properly enjoyed when you overpay a corporate ghost to get a 360 degree view from the 73rd floor. Not to mention the fact it makes walking through the whole city super claustrophobic and dizzying, with giant blue tinted towers being the new artificial replacement for the sky it eclipses. 

This death of detail is obviously also attributed to the fact that affordable housing should be keeping up with the spiking of our population, in which case speed is quite clearly the priority over millimetres of detail, but this article isn’t an exploration into the need for these types of residential areas, but rather the debauchery of high-end offices and ‘landmarks’ that we call modern architecture. 

What happened to all the intricate carvings in between drains and windows, the wood beams that stripped the top off of old cottage ceilings, or any sign of character at all? The urban fabric of London seems to be altering into a purely practical analysis of spatial utility and the organisation of our mega-city.

That we live in a city suffering from the death of detail is sad. It almost mimics how we as a society aspire to morph into our celebrities or empty social media influencers, draining us of having to be creative, or original, or even think for ourselves. Are we becoming just another pane of glass in that samey skyscraper? Boring and identical? 

Illustration by Francesca Corno

Iraz laments the death of detail among the identical glass skyscrapers in London's skyline


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts

scroll to top