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Bring on the Vortex

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.

21 comments to Bring on the Vortex

  • I’m sure it would blend in rather well in the City of London area, somewhere near the Gerkin. Shame there isn’t really that much room around there.

    I also particularly like the clever way in which the building cuts out the middle section as its the least profitable bit, and i’m quite surprised that I haven’t seen something like it before.

    Could be interesting, I do wonder how much it would costs to build and how long it would take though.

  • Harry Powell

    I believe that shape is a hyperbola of revolution, and is a very common design for power station cooling towers due to its structural stability. Nice to see it on an urban building.

  • Lynne

    That is a very ugly building. Couldn’t a gorgeous, classical city like London do better?

  • zmollusc

    Hoorah! A tall structure faced with glass. Incredible. Amazing. Those architect chappies just keep coming out with fresh ideas. What next, a glass faced building whose height exceeds both its breadth and depth? A chimney-like structure which is covered, not with brick or stone, but glass?
    Are all architects in the pay of Pilkington’s?

  • A_t

    I like it, but why the colour? frikkin’orrible. Hopefully they’ll change it before it’s built, or it’ll look better in real life (anyway, london dirt’ll probably make sure that’s hidden within a year or 2)

  • Antoine Clarke

    The Giant Dildo looks like a suppository. So not everyone you know thinks it is superb. lol

  • thinloi

    Looks like Kobe Tower to me.

  • Julian Morrison

    Put that next to the gherkin and people will think you squeezed one and it made the other inflate.

    Glass fronts on skyscrapers? Probably due to weight and cost. Thin glass has to be cheaper, and cheaper to hold up, than stone sheets or brick.

    Skyscraper-wise, though, I still like the honey-colored brick and stone Manhattan aesthetic, complete with stepped layers and gothic decoration. That would fit into London infinitely better than these computer-generated thingies.

    Not that I dispute what people do with their own land, I just wish they had more fondness for beauty.

  • Mike James

    I will trust the instincts of the Londoners reading this as to its’ suitability for that city, but I always am impressed with an elegant shape, and this one has, to my eyes, a sort of simple mathematical elegance which compels one to look at it.

    Made out of straight lines, you say? It’s hypnotizing. I know a great site which could use two of them, the construction of which would be an upraised middle finger (the British, I believe, use the first two fingers) to a certain culture of medieval losers which don’t create much of anything, save torment and death.

  • zmollusc

    I think the reason for using glass is indeed due to cost. The whole ethos seems to be to make a building that encompasses the most volume for the least cost, and damn all other considerations. Oh well, as long as it isn’t my money, I shouldn’t moan.

  • Woody

    It’s not intended to be constructed. It’s designed to make a splash. For free advertising. It worked. You fell for it. Now we all know the name Ken ‘my tower’s bigger than yours’ Shuttleworth.

    A couple of years ago I decided to decorate a shelf in my bedroom with a few glass vases. I though I was being clever by juxtaposing one which bulged out in the middle with one which narrowed there. Bad choice – it just looked ridiculous.

    A bright red tower is awful. With current technology, there is no reason why much of such a large building couldn’t be a giant advertising hoarding, or project the sky on the opposite side, so as to appear invisible.

  • I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ken a couple of times, and I’d hardly call him a self-aggrandising, self-publicist. He’s a fairly quiet, self-effacing guy, and his wariness of publicity is suggested by the effort we had to go to to get him as an interview subject for the last GRID.

  • Woody

    1. What’s so wrong with advertising?

    2. The difference between Shuttleworth and you with your glass vases is that you don’t know at all how to build skyscrapers, while Shuttleworth is very, very good at it. So when he waves a picture around of a skyscraper, it’s more than just a pretty shape. It’s likely to be a pretty shape that is buildable, and financeable, and it might well – despite what you say – get built, somewhere if not in London.

    If it were clearly NOT buildable, it wouldn’t be very good advertising.

    Are you seriously saying that, if a gang of financiers said to Shuttleworth that they do want to build it, he couldn’t?

  • Technically, he’d probably need a developer, too, to complete the normal development of: architect, who plans the building; financier, who pays for it; developer, who does the annoying detail like getting planning and employing builders…

  • On cue from Seattle:

    “Yes that’s all very cute. But the really key question is how does the Vortex meet the sidewalk?”

  • Good question. If it’s anything like the gherkin, the answer is “badly”.

  • gomtu

    Ah, the hyperboloid of one sheet: x^2 + y^2 – z^2 = 1

    See (here) and espec. (here), which shows the straight lines along the sides.

    Now, a building in the form of a two-sheeted hyperboloid… that’d really be a sight…

  • I like it, but why the colour? frikkin’orrible. Hopefully they’ll change it before it’s built, or it’ll look better in real life (anyway, london dirt’ll probably make sure that’s hidden within a year or 2)

    porcelain insulator

  • What a lovely piece of architecture! It’s so nice that modern art and technology could bring it to us.

  • I think! the Vortex is wonderful because it is so different in comparison compared with other structures in London, except the newly built erotic gkerkin.
    I hope it does indeed get built and, it gets built in London not shanghai as mentioned, we in the UK have some of the best architects in the world – so I hope they have some patriotism towards their own country instead of china.