The big news in the London architecture scene just now is the fact that Ken Shuttleworth has left Norman Foster and is branching out on his own, with a new practice called simply: Make. And Make are making a huge public splash already, with this:
The Vortex, it is already being called.
“Ken Shuttleworth”, I realise, sounds like one of the barmier characters in The League of Gentlemen – but believe me, if you know who this guy is you soon forget that. He was the creative brain behind the Erotic Gherkin. He was also the creative brain behind the Millenium Bridge, the one which so famously wobbled when it was first opened. But the wobbles have been long fixed, and that, like the Gherkin, is now an instant London landmark, with the view of it from Tate Modern with St Pauls in the background now being a favourite London picture postcard.
Just as the Gherkin could have, the Vortex could end up looking horribly kitsch, like a giant lamp fit only for a car boot sale. But I hope and trust that, if Shuttleworth does get it built, he executes it as well as he executed the Gherkin, which all of London (that I know of) reckons is superb.
The design rationale of The Vortex is twofold. First, although the shape is beautifully curvy, it is a shape made entirely out of straight lines, which makes it a whole lot easier to build than it looks. Not easy mind, just easier. And second, the big rents in buildings like this are charged at the bottom and at the top, apparently, so the logical shape for such a beast to be is thick and bottom, thick and the top and thinner in the middle. The Vortex obliges perfectly, and as an intrinsic result of its shape.
But the most interesting thing of all about this building, to my way of thinking, is the fact that Shuttleworth has designed it, and announced it, before he knows where it will go.
This is fascinating. Design the building, in rough outline. Then advertise it. Then get the money together and get the politicians excited, and sort out where to put the thing. This makes perfect sense. It also flies in the face of much architectural orthodoxy about how the building has to blend into its surroundings, which I rather like. Because this thing will, if done well (Shuttleworth style), blend in with anything.
No doubt there will be Americans commenting here to the effect that edifices like this spoil Disneyland-London, which exists entirely for their amusement by being the opposite of New York and Chicago. They should know that I vehemently disagree. The business of London is business and it always has been, and you can’t do business only in cutesy little historical type buildings. London is a living city, and plans like this are all part of why it is living particularly vivaciously just now.
The idea is, of course, that the Vortex should be built in London. But since they haven’t fixed on a particular place for it yet, there is no reason why it couldn’t be built in Shanghai instead, or in Shanghai as well, and bigger. I could live with that.