River Plate House

River Plate House

After the recent destruction of part of the ’80s planned and 1991-completed Broadgate development near the City in London, which the 20th century society tried (and failed) to have listed (a characterless, metallic block is going to replace it – reason: corporate bank needed more floor space!), just round the corner in Finsbury Circus another late ’80s structure is about to face the ’white sheet of death’ in 2013. Reason: new client requires an 11 inch higher ceiling. You couldn’t make it up.

This time it’s 1989-built 9 storey, £40-million Portland Stone postmodern office building ’River Plate House’. It’s not really a building which has ever had much attention, aside from architecture awards at the time, probably because it fits in well with its surroundings and it doesn’t house a famous occupant.

Although classed as postmodern, it isn’t typically flamboyant for the sake of it. It’s more reserved, upmarket and restrained. The biggest shock isn’t so much the loss – but what’s going to replace it.

The original architect – Julian Boswell of Sherlock Boswell Architecture – clearly planned it carefully to echo its neighbours and designed it to sit in harmony with the unspoiled Finsbury Circus. It has a kind of ’New York Chic’ look to it and the slick detailing continues inside with the prerequisite marble, glass, wood grain and brass finishes.

However, its replacement will sick out like a sore thumb, ruining the ambience of the area and has a strangely ’70s brutalist look: large, sharp, unfriendly looking concrete planks will make it shout ’look at me’ (or rather, don’t!) – office space, it appears, won’t greatly be increased – so what exactly is the reason for replacing it?

There’s also a 1920s facade which has been kept in the existing late ’80s structure. That is going to be ’partially retained’ with the demolition this year, but I can’t see how that’s going to merge with the 2013 structure in any cohesive way. I wonder how many years it’ll last? As the lifespan of London buildings seems to be getting shorter with each decade, expect to hear about it ’reaching the end of its useful life’ (read: ’we realized we can make more money out of it if we…’) in about 2020?

I fully understand that the city can’t stand still (who would want it to?) architecturally but why destroy everything from the 1950s onwards on a whim and just because there isn’t enough space to build new stuff?

It’s kind of like buildings are merely shop window displays now and that anything from the ’50s onwards is disposable and get thrown out at the end of a tenancy. Somebody made a great point in a comment on a newspaper saying ’wrecking buildings is the ultimate waste in today’s throw away society’. It certainly is.

Ryan Dunlop