Tate Modern
Just redeveloped and opened in 2000, this is one of the most aggravating public spaces we have ever been in. You feel so manipulated by a series of birch allees that lead to nowhere. It seems like you might be entering a giant maze… but no, it was just a line drawn on a paper and then put onto a plan and built. Clearly no more thought was given to this space than this minimal, simplistic idea. (If it represents some metaphor, then this space is even worse in our minds.) The fact that people might use it could not have been remotely considered. It truly has the worst and most poorly located benches ever produced by man. In fact on a Friday night, June 6, 2003 at 10 PM, the only creature using the space was a giant rat at least 14 inches long including the tail. It was not a work of art. Maybe that is why we didn’t even see any homeless people.

Because we stay nearby, we have gone through the space at least 20 times, so we were prepared for little or no use, but a rat was unexpected.

A space that offers so few options, that controls you and limits you in every attempt that you might want to make, we know instantly that people who try to use it in the way they want are going to be irritated and will not stay long, and probably will not return. In addition, the fact that it is an art museum of “renown,” you would think that there could be a garden with sculpture, amenities, and flowers…something that might lift one intellectually or spiritually.

In contrast, when you compare this public space with the sculpture gardens of the Hirschhorn and the National Gallery in Washington, or the Modern Art Museum’s garden in New York, you realize how far off the mark the Tate Modern is. What a loser.

Inside the situation is similar, especially in the main hall where world-class contemporary sculpture is laid out randomly, seemingly with no pattern. This could be a wonderful setting with more features like that of a garden atrium or plaza, such as cafes and seating that are provided in the American Wing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The space is acting more as a storehouse for art, not the public space that it could and should be.

Canary Wharf

We had never heard positive comments about the Canary Wharf development, so we were not expecting a lot when we went there. We were more disappointed than we expected to be. They have four outdoor public spaces and a maze of underground shops that are virtually hidden from view and hard to find. Three of the public spaces were filled with cars. Evidently, they think so little of their public space that they think a car show is an attraction to enliven them.

This very large complex rivals any office park in size. the complex fails on every score. The bottoms of the buildings are stark and empty, or covered with columns to hide any use that might try to reach out. Even when you get behind the columns or arcades, and you get some retail or a nice entranceway, the result is still stark and uninviting. Any outside street is uninteresting and uninviting. One almost hopes to see some seedy characters to add some personality to the place. There is clearly a very limited clientele that they want to attract.

Contrast this complex with either Battery Park City or Rockefeller Center and you see how far off the mark Canary Wharf is. One begins to think as Winston Churchill said… We shape our building, and afterwards they shape us… pretty scary!

ABN AMRO Headquarters

This building should not be in London or any city, not even Houston or Atlanta. It would not add anything anywhere. We don’t even think it should be a stand-alone building in a suburban office park. But to locate next to one of the most vital and interesting neighborhoods in London is a travesty of the highest order. One can only think that people who work in this building must be from another planet that must be placed on this earth to stamp out anything of interest around it. To even think of putting such a building in the city is amazing. It reminds us of the Bonaventure Hotels in Atlanta and Los Angeles, which Holly Whyte labeled the “most brutal” buildings imaginable. We thought we would never see another building like this in any city after exposing those disasters.

The design of these buildings, like the Canary Wharf complex, is driven by fear. They are designed to be separate and apart, aloof and indifferent to the world that they have removed themselves from. It is scary to think what the people are like inside these building, what decisions they make and what impact they have on the rest of the world. The contrast between ABN Amro and Spittlefields Market and the Whitechapel and Aldgate Neighborhoods is probably the starkest anywhere. This new development imposes a way of life that is so contrary to, alien to, and so inferior to what is already there. Build on what is there. Don’t destroy centuries of growth and impose something so superficial and empty in its place.

Old Street

The newly improved section of Old Street in Shoreditch really missed the mark. It undertook to make a horrible, by all accounts, one way eastbound road through an important and revitalizing neighborhood, and did merely a road improvement when it could have done a major community renewal project by creating a series of public spaces and development opportunities to draw people instead of just a road. Traffic could have been part of the solution, but it was the only consideration. A fifty year decision that truly limits the potential of a very important and interesting community is a sad commentary for a city that is beginning to focus attention more than ever on regeneration and public spaces.

The South Bank Centre; National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall, and Queen Elizabeth Hall

No complex of public performance space could be more uninviting than this. We went buy these buildings four times on our last visit and we could not tell you what they were or what was going on in them, even after the fourth pass. All we know is that it is the center for skateboarders, and they provide some real entertainment.

The whole second level is a real mystery, and where you enter any of the facilities is also very hard to decipher. The potential for this complex fronting on the South Bank walk and the Themes River is extraordinary. Add the Shell Center, The London Eye and the Old County Hall (Saatchi Gallery, London Aquarium, Dali Universe) and you have a row of buildings that would compile the greatest entertainment stretch anywhere in the world. And it is across the river from Parliament and some of the most important public buildings in London. Awesome! We think that this stretch of the South Bank Walk is functioning at 20% of its capacity.

Shell Center

Why can’t corporate headquarters in critical locations be shining examples of their participation in their city’s life? Rockefeller Center with GE as its signature tenant is the best example. But Shell (Royal Dutch) is along with ABN Amro, and the Canary Wharf development sadly lacking in their responsibility. Their location is center to the future of London and the walkway from Waterloo Station through their building to the waterfront is horrible, – probably the worst experience in London and certainly the worst gateway.

GLA Building (City Hall) and Plaza

There may be many important innovations in this building, but when you see it for the first time, it is very dreary and dull. It also seems so minor a building for such a grand city. It has a terrible sunken plaza that is only good for skateboarders and skaters. We think the building should be replaced with a building worthy of being the “City Hall” of a great city. Move out or replace.

British Museum Entranceway

This almost feels like the truck entranceway or the entranceway to a public building that doesn’t want visitors. There is no art, no flowers, and no park… nothing to do. And yet behind this empty courtyard is a vast, wonderful museum, one of the most honored in the world.

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