Wednesday, February 28, 2024

London’s architecture under discussion

London’s architectural sights are known all over the world. Most tourists visit the city to see the most famous gems, such as Big Ben, Nelson’s Column, etc., which are more than a hundred years old. However, modernity adds a special charm to the city too. For example, the observation wheel London Eye has already become a symbol of this old city. The combination of antiquity and the latest and most modern forms constantly causes controversy among the city’s residents. Learn more at london-future.

A lot of people believe that the creations of the famous architect Christopher Wren, who rebuilt the city after the great fire of 1666, are not just symbols of London but of the English Golden Age. Therefore, the residents constantly emphasize the necessity to follow the already established architectural style.

The biggest defender

The main supporter of London’s classical architecture is Prince Charles. In a documentary, in which the heir to the throne swam across the River Thames, he described the modern high-rise buildings of London City as horrific.

After that statement, Prince Charles won a large number of supporters among the residents of London. However, on the other hand, many opponents appeared, who also joined the great debate about which buildings are beautiful and which should not exist in the city.

In one of the interviews, the prince also said that he completely despised the new architectural style and that the avant-garde should not be predominant. Alas, that’s exactly what happened. Nowadays, the avant-garde style reigns not only in architecture but in other areas of British life. Charles also added that he doesn’t want the country he cares so much about to disappear under a pile of disgust.

His opponents believe that the prince has no right to criticize architecture in such a way and to participate in these discussions in general because he is not an architect. Some more daring claim that Charles is just taking advantage of his privileged position.

Opponents’ opinion

A special meeting, which was held at the Royal Geographical Society, was convened to discuss that issue. The famous publicist and critic Stephen Bailey was one of the speakers there. He categorically rejected the prince’s judgment that the city was flooded with modern architecture, resembling some kind of broken glass.

In his speech, Stephen also noted that according to the prince, the best exists only in the past. He also drew attention to the fact that it could be just fear of the future, which modernity rejects. Of course, no one will deny that some buildings are really terrible. Although such constructions existed in the century before last too and then, disappeared, as they did not stand the test of time. Stephen concluded his speech by stating that the prince’s attachment to what survived confused his view of history. You can’t just copy the past because art, creativity and innovation are the driving forces of civilization development.

However, Charles and most of his supporters want to preserve the best architectural pieces of the past, which have survived and become symbols of those times.

Old means valuable?

British lawmakers have developed a number of laws with a rather complex system in order to preserve iconic architectural monuments.

The government program was updated in 2015. It states that the historic environment includes buildings, monuments, landscapes and places that reflect British history. If such areas are not protected, there is a risk of losing important and historically valuable objects. They may be lost forever if altered or demolished. The most effective way to preserve the architecture and landscapes of the country is to add them to the list of valuable historical sights of the UK. Buildings that are already on this list can’t be demolished under any circumstances and even partially changed without the permission of the state.

All buildings that are listed as valuable historical sights are divided into several categories. The highest of them prohibits any changes. It is not allowed to change the color or even the type of paint on the windows, doors or walls.

The eastern part of London is more modern only because there were not so many historical buildings. Therefore, the companies received permission to build in this area of the British capital.

However, there is also an example that clearly shows the problem with the protection of historical buildings. On the left bank of the River Thames, Battersea Power Station stopped its functioning a long time ago. It became famous after its image was placed on the album cover of the rock band Pink Floyd.

In 1980, the government added this building to the register of historical monuments. But for decades, the building stood abandoned, the windows were broken and piles of trash were all over the area. The status of the building did not allow demolition. The reconstruction turned out to be too expensive and several projects failed without reaching completion.

The construction of modern, commercial and residential buildings around the power plant was allowed just recently.

Bad buildings have bad histories

On June 14, 2017, a great tragedy happened in London. At 1 a.m., the 24-story residential building Grenfell Tower caught fire. It started due to a short circuit in the refrigerator in the apartment on the 4th floor, but in a matter of minutes, the fire engulfed almost the entire building with 120 apartments.

250 London firefighters tried to put out the flames, and more than 100 medical workers were providing first aid to the victims near the scene of the tragedy. The fire lasted more than a day.

After that, an open criminal investigation was announced because 72 people were killed in that fire. The police were looking for the reason why the fire engulfed the entire building so quickly.

Even several groups of independent experts were invited to the investigation to establish the exact cause of the fire. In their conclusions, they put forward several hypotheses.

The first one is the recommendation of firefighters not to leave a burning building. Expert Barbara Lane noted that on the night of the fire, a large number of people had to wait for help in their apartments while the fire grew due to the advice of firefighters. In her report, she wrote that the emergency services received information about the fire around 1 a.m. The guidance of staying in the house had to be canceled after half an hour, but it lasted almost 3 hours. The expert also noted that the building didn’t comply with all fire safety standards, which became the reason for the disaster. During the investigation, they listened to the recording of the first call to the emergency service panel, which was made by the resident of apartment # 16.

Having analyzed the recording, experts concluded that the recommendation not to leave the apartments could have been relevant until the fire had spread beyond apartment # 16. When the fire crossed that border, the residents had to be evacuated immediately.

In their reports, independent experts also noted several other important points:

  • Most residents neglected fire safety rules.
  • Most of the apartments in the building had fire-resistant doors, but they were replaced in 2011. However, both of them didn’t comply with all safety regulations.
  • Unfortunately, the elevators didn’t withstand the fire and broke. Thus, the firefighters could not reach the upper floors and the residents had no opportunity to go down.
  • Also, the firefighters had to pump water for the upper floors by themselves because the built-in fire protection pipeline didn’t meet all the recommendations either during construction or on the night of the fire.

After this disaster, the government is more careful in giving building permits and monitors all safety measures. Although the city continues to develop its architecture.

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