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Why Facadism Is Happening

September 20, 2019
by the gentle author

In today’s extract from my forthcoming book THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM I explore the reasons behind the recent proliferation of facadism in the capital.

I still need to raise another £3,500 to publish my book next month, so I ask you to search down the back of the sofa and in your coat pockets to help me in this last push to reach the total. Click here to help

You can also support publication by ordering a copy in advance for £15. Click here to preorder

Steel frame in Smithfield

London is a city that has evolved through waves of redevelopment, often after catastrophes such the Great Fire and the Blitz. In this century, we have seen a new wave of development driven by overseas investment, reflecting London’s status as a global metropolis and the willingness of our city fathers to accept overseas investment without asking too many questions.

Our government chooses to encourage the development and construction industries by zero-rating new construction for VAT, whereas the renovation or repair of existing buildings is taxed. Thus the destruction of old buildings is incentivised financially, while the reuse and repurposing of buildings is discouraged. This irresponsible policy is directly in opposition to environmental concerns and reflects a preference for short-term economic gain regardless of long-term consequences.

In this sense, the destruction of our heritage is government policy. It has been very disappointing to witness how Historic England, the government’s heritage agency, has been on the wrong side of too many important London planning battles in recent years, advocating – or at least making no objection to – the destruction of Smithfield General Market, the historic terrace at Kings College in the Strand, the Marquis of Lansdowne in Dalston and Norton Folgate in Spitalfields, as well as the loss of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a working foundry.

Over recent decades, traditional centres of affluence in the capital such as the City of London and the West End have expanded into neighbouring areas such as Spitalfields, Soho and Southwark, characterised by the presence of old buildings and designated as Conservation Areas. Almost all the buildings featured in my book are in these areas.

In Conservation Areas, developers come up against restrictions upon redevelopment yet the escalating land values make them attractive propositions for new buildings. When developers acquire sites in these areas, they hope to demolish the old buildings in order to build the largest new buildings possible, but they come against resistance. Conservations Areas extend a degree of protection to the buildings within their boundaries, and historical significance or listed status can lead to development proposals being rejected by local councils.

When this happens, developers can appeal to the government’s Planning Inspectorate or lobby the Mayor of London or the Secretary of State to overturn the decision. Mostly, a compromise is sought. The council insists that the façade of the building must be retained and this option is backed by the government, who permit a new development to be zero-rated for VAT if retention of the façade is a condition of planning permission granted by the local authority.

Thus the government’s legislative structure supports the practice of façadism just as the intricate cages of steel girders support the façades in my book.

Steel frame in Southwark

Steel frame in Mayfair

Steel frame in Hyde Park

Steel frame in Smithfield

Steel frame in Shepherds Bush

Steel frame in Archway


“As if I were being poked repeatedly in the eye with a blunt stick, I cannot avoid becoming increasingly aware of a painfully cynical trend in London architecture which threatens to turn the city into the backlot of an abandoned movie studio.”

The Gentle Author presents a humorous analysis of facadism – the unfortunate practice of destroying an old building apart from the front wall and constructing a new building behind it – revealing why it is happening and what it means.

As this bizarre architectural fad has spread across the capital, The Gentle Author has photographed the most notorious examples, collecting an astonishing gallery of images guaranteed to inspire both laughter and horror in equal measure.

You may also like to take a look at

The Creeping Plague of Ghastly Facadism

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Juliet shipman permalink
    September 20, 2019

    I admire your book but I can’t bear to see this hideous facadism in action. It is worse than pulling the building down. None of it should ever have been given permission. It is an insult to the building and a joke attempt at conservation.

  2. Peter Holford permalink
    September 20, 2019

    Keep up the good fight GA! It’s probably the last actions of an increasingly neo-con system that has to pursue ever more extreme policies to turn a profit. It will collapse but the long-term damage wrought on our built environment will persist long after the vandals have gone.

    I, for one, will continue to write letters and sign petitions as my contribution to combatting this evil system. But that is just one of the reasons I read your blog – there are otherst

  3. Ann permalink
    September 20, 2019

    In terms of irresponsible planning going on in London, your readers might like to know about the proposed plans for the City of London Girls School in the heart of the Barbican. If these plans go ahead a large part of the Grade II listed brutalist architecture of the Barbican will be lost including the views through the double height piloti shown on this website.
    See also

    Barbican residents are having to put up a tremendous fight to save their estate’s heritage whereas it should be the Corporation of London protecting it themselves. The school has already been allowed to spoil key elements of the architecture in previous developments but this recent plan, which follows on from last year’s failed plan to take over the residents’ carpark beneath Thomas More House as a pre-prep school, is totally unacceptable.

    And all of these architectural concerns go side by side with the nuisance to residents who will have to put up with an industrial kitchen in the space between the pillars below their flats with attendant early morning deliveries and extraction equipment pumping cooking smells into their flats. It also ignores the fact that the school is fee-paying and draws the vast majority of its pupils from outside the City of London. It cannot be said to be in any way a benefit to the Barbican community as a whole.

  4. Jill Wilson permalink
    September 20, 2019

    I wonder how one could get the destructive government policy changed…??

  5. September 21, 2019

    Hello gentle author.
    I’ve ordered a book in the hope that is helpful for your fundraising. If you also need me to make a donation (I was thinking one or the other…) then I could do this. You are such an inspiration and your blog and campaigns superb. Power to your pen. Nicola from islington faces

  6. the gentle author permalink*
    September 21, 2019

    Your support is much appreciated, Nicola. We need all the help we can muster to pay the printer’s bill!

  7. November 14, 2019

    This all goes to show that Lady Judith Hackett’s view of building regulations, in her report on the Grenfell Tower fire, should be extended to cover all aspects of buildings and their creation, not just what is listed in the current Parts A to …..Z of the said regulations as currently defined. The extension should cover all aspects of planning and the involvement of “societies” from local amenity groups to the various Government Depts who have a say.
    We need an order of precedence of organisations, and also an order of importance, starting with safety now, working through sustainability, to crttiques of appearance and matters described by the “gentle author”. Without this extra and collective discipline, which we have brought upon ourselves, there will continue to be loopholes and alliances that cause the amazing visions you illustrate.

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