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Some Recent Facades

September 5, 2018
by the gentle author

A stonker at Borough Market

Two years ago I wrote of the creeping plague of ghastly facadism which threatens to turn London into the backlot of movie studio where front walls replace architecture. Regrettably, this trend has not abated and it is with a heavy heart that I publish these photographs of some especially grim recent specimens.

Here you will find examples from the East End and the West End, yet the with completion of the Fruit & Wool Exchange retaining only the front wall, Spitalfields is becoming the epicentre of this form of architectural abuse in the capital.

The former Alma pub in Spelman St and a dignified nineteenth century terrace in Cobb St are currently reduced to only their front walls, pending reconstruction, but discreet scaffolding and tarpaulins conceal these.

I wonder how long before architects recognise that building a new shed behind an old wall is not architecture? I am certain that future generations will laugh in horror and derision at the folly of it.

Borough facade viewed from the west

Facade at Toynbee Hall

Facade at Toynbee Hall, under construction in Wentworth St

In Knightsbridge

Another facade in Knightsbridge

In Brooke St, Mayfair

In Smithfield, where the new building and the old facade do not fit

You may also like to take a look at my other features

The Creeping Plague of Ghastly Facadism

The Facading of The White Hart

19 Responses leave one →
  1. September 5, 2018

    This is just sick! It makes me want to scream long and loud. Valerie

  2. Gary Michael Horton permalink
    September 5, 2018

    Along with many fellow London lovers, I’m appalled at this the gradual destruction year by year of so many iconographic buildings that represent what London represents for millions of people. The beloved character of our capital city is rapidly becoming a bland landscape, one which crushes the sensations that once were feeling of elation when my eyes met with the lovely characters of the old London architecture. The disaster of world war 2 attacks by the German Luftwaffe springs to mind upon witnessing the official destruction of our once fair city.

  3. Jonathan Madden permalink
    September 5, 2018

    This is madness, turning London into a film set. Architects are either on an ego trip designing more and more weirdly shaped buildings, or creating this sort of nonsense. The materials that suit London best are brick and stone, they wear and weather well and suit it’s character but this is not the answer. Again this approach is yet another example of a wider issue i.e. where the skin is more important than the substance. It is evident in politics, public services, journalism, it’s ubiquitous, it is a form of marketing and ultimately a lie.

  4. Helen permalink
    September 5, 2018

    Why oh why? What is the point? The actual building is lost, the facade means nothing without it. This isn’t preservation, it is as you say GA , a movie backlot! If we are going to lose historical buildings, at least replace them with a worthy pieces of modern architecture, which can be admired in its own right. All this allows is for “boxes” to be attached to back of the facade. The only building I know that was successful in this operation was the Nomura building in Aldersgate Street, EC1A. Completely gutted on the inside in the late 80s, the whole exterior facade was preserved, and a new modern offices were created inside. You wouldn’t know from the outside though, that any work had been done in the last 130 years or so, that it has been standing!

  5. Peter Holford permalink
    September 5, 2018

    The key word here is ‘integrity’. Architects have long argued that a building should have architectural integrity. The architect Elizabeth Diller put it succinctly: ““Facades and buildings and their organization, their logic, are tied entirely together. You either have the integrity of a building with all its intelligence and connected ideas, or you don’t.”

    Clearly there is no integrity with the process of facadism in London and I would suggest the integrity is also missing from the people who think this somehow makes wholesale destruction more palatable while turning a quick buck.

  6. Laura Williamson permalink
    September 5, 2018

    This is a dreadful trend. I don’t see any significant difference between the people responsible for this and the planners, developers and architects of the 60s removing worthwhile buildings to erect far inferior ones, although I suppose it could be argued that they at least had the courage of their convictions (misguided though they were) and built something new. I foresee similarly harsh “What were they thinking?! ” judgements on these awful codgy compromises, some of which don’t even look safe, frankly (judging by those in your last piece)

  7. September 5, 2018

    The first time I saw an example of facade (in Spitalfields, as a matter of fact), I was rather charmed. But then, as I saw more and more, I realised that it is simply a nose-thumb by the wealthy – here you go, tiresome concerned people, have a look at this bit which I have kindly kept so that I can build crap behind it to make lots of dosh. The total lack of integrity…were I so inclined I could use it as a metaphor but actually, it is simply idleness and greed writ large. Having said all of that – why bother in Knightsbridge? Just tear it down, hideous stuff that it is. But don’t put up even more hideousness in its place. I don’t really understand why talented architects cannot take an existing building and transform it but probably because the client says: take it down. Rant over.

  8. Leana Pooley permalink
    September 5, 2018

    The hollow trickery of facadism hits me very time I walk past my dear old friend’s house in Chepstow Villas, Notting Hill Gate. Her wealthy new neighbour offered to buy her house for several millions. He’d dug down two storeys under his own house for a gym, cinema, swimming pool and other essentials and was now coveting her pretty garden. My friend’s husband had recently died, she had had enough of the cranes, the pile drilling and dust and thinking of her old age, took the money. A couple of months later I walked past her house and I did a double take – I could see the sky through its windows. I was sandbagged with shock. This was not just a lovely family house of the 1850s with its fine cornices, ceiling decorations and elegant fireplaces, it was full of my memories of friends welcoming me in at the front door, of them playing musical instruments, (often William playing the spoons), of delicious meals and gossip and roaring with laughter. There was a sweet black cat and a tortoise in the garden and Golden Hornet crab apple tree in the front garden. That old house was not just a decent building but it had a happy atmosphere too. All swept away.

  9. Margaret McDermott permalink
    September 5, 2018

    “Where there is no vision the people perish”.

  10. Liz Rastrick permalink
    September 5, 2018

    This is equivalent to a facial transplant, less the benevolence. Behind each facade is complete disdain for the things which matter: people; integrity; architectural respect; empathy for the environment.
    It sums up so much of our political climate.

  11. Sue Mayer permalink
    September 5, 2018

    This stupid trend is making me very sad and very cross.

    If I lived or worked in a building with a façade I would feel cheated. These buildings are pretending to be something they are not and never will be.

    Our buildings full of history and character are being destroyed and being replaced with horrible buildings which could be in any city in any country.

    Why is this happening? Greed, stupidity and short sightedness.

  12. mlaiuppa permalink
    September 5, 2018

    As awful as it is, it is better than nothing. Locally they tear the entire building down to replace it with what I term “Millennial Crap” in which “colored stucco” is considered an architectural detail. I kid you not. If you took photos of these buildings in black and white they would be horrid. Just boxes. We have lost so many wonderful buildings. Not historic in London terms, being from the 20s and 30s, but they had their charm. Egyptian revival, Spanish revival, “Bauhaus” and some dating back to the 1880s even. The tragedy is that they did this right before several of the financial crashes so in some cases a beautiful building was razed and nothing but an empty lot remained for years due to the financial turndowns. Then it became a parking lot as a cost cutting measure. Just awful.

    So in comparison I would take a façade over a parking lot any day.

    We do have a few places that will not allow a building to be removed and replaced unless a certain percentage of the original building remains. This makes it renovation rather than replacement. So you will see everything gone but one wall. In other areas you can remove the building but must replace using the identical footprint or foundation. That gets very creative and additional regulations exist in some neighborhoods so that you cannot build up so high you block the “view” of an existing neighbor. I am in a coastal city so blocking an ocean view has significant impact to property values.

    Between this “movie lot” architecture and the downright loss of historic buildings to redevelopment I weep for London. I understand that they’re not making any more land and that a plot in London is worth it’s weight in gold but indiscriminate development should not be allowed without regulation, oversight and significant penalties for violations. In my state, there is a cap on property taxes so the only way municipalities can increase property taxes is if developers raze a building and build a new one. This is a threat to our historic buildings not all of which have protection.

    From what I’ve read, even your buildings with protection aren’t really protected. They’re gone before an objection can be made. Developers figure paying the penalty is cheaper than going through the proper legal process.

    It makes me so sad.

    How is the mulberry tree? Was the schoolhouse saved?

  13. Marcia Howard permalink
    September 5, 2018

    Unbelievable sights. I’m pretty horrified by them all 🙁

  14. pennyp permalink
    September 6, 2018

    Regrettably this vandalism isn’t confined to London – we saw an appalling example in the beautiful and historic Salisbury a few months ago. Fake buildings to go with fake news etc.

  15. Madelaine Pierson permalink
    September 6, 2018

    The Toynbee Hall case is quite interesting, the facade retention is actually from the previous redevelopment in the 70s. In his excellent book ‘Building Conservation Philosophy’ John Earl doubted whether a retained facade would be retained again in subsequent redevelopment, so as much as I HATE facade retention, it is interesting to get an answer to that question – in this one instance!

  16. clew permalink
    September 7, 2018

    Am I imagining it or do the facade windows and the windows in the new building not even reliably line up? Madness.

    Seattle, with so much less history to preserve, has facade rules but the old walls are usually actual walls in the new buildings.

    for example, fancy preservation of fancy material:

  17. Jill Wilson permalink
    September 8, 2018

    Ghastly façadism indeed! What unbelievable crap being built in London today… The only slightly encouraging note is how strongly so many other people feel about these outrages (I have just read all the comments on your original ghastly façadism blog) I thought it was just me that felt so strongly! But how to get this horrible trend to stop? How can we get architects and planners with integrity and honesty?? Where is Prince Charles when we (and London!) need him so badly???

  18. September 8, 2018

    ‘Ghastly facadism.’ Town Planners to blame?
    I was working in London in the 1970s when we took a planning application to Camden which the planning committee agreed to on condition that ‘fins’ ( yes,fins, in the manner of 1930s cinemas) were added to the proposals.
    But also perhaps proportion, the magic way of achieving beauty, is not known among many, perhaps most, architects today so they are quick grab a way to pass up the need to use it on a facade.

  19. Carolyn Badcock permalink
    September 11, 2018

    I’m sitting here in Brisbane Queensland saying “Oh! My God!” Utterly disgusting and what a pretense.

    Seems no different, to me, to some of the human faces strutting about with lips filled with botox and face skin stretched so tightly I’m left wondering how some of these facial facade owners cannot see what is looking back from their mirrors. Memories of our Ab Fab ladies send-ups!! “Darling, darling, darling – can they not SEE what Stupid looks like??!!” Joanna would say.

    Time for soooo many reality checks.

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