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The Relentless Rise Of Facadism

January 16, 2020
by the gentle author

I am giving an illustrated lecture, telling the stories behind THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings on Thursday 30th January in St Botolph’s Hall, Bishopsgate, EC2. Click here for tickets

Piccadilly Circus

Since I wrote my book last year, there has been no respite from the relentless rise of facadism and barely a week passes without another case coming to light.

Just yesterday, I walked through Piccadilly Circus and discovered that the vast illuminated signs are now merely a facade for a massive construction site which is the size of a city block. I was startled to walk around the back into Denman St to ascertain the extent of the redevelopment and discover a forlorn fragment of an eighteenth century house with its doorframe still intact in the midst of the destruction, a poignant remnant of a lost world. Consulting the planning application revealed that an agglomeration of buildings which has evolved over centuries is being replaced by a single development, involving the removal and reconstruction of facades.

At the end of last year, a reader suggested I should visit Chelsea where two unfortunate outbreaks of facadism have taken place near the Kings Rd. In Tryon St, the Queen’s Head, a traditional London pub built in 1840 has been reduced to the front wall and the King’s Rd Odeon has similarly been destroyed. Originally named the Gaumont Palace, it was designed by cinema architect William Edward Trent and opened in 1934.

Eighteenth century fragment in Denman St, Piccadilly

Recently revealed opposite the new Elizabeth Line station in Oxford St

The Queens Head was built in Tryon St, Chelsea, in 1840

The Kings Rd Odeon is being facaded

Originally named the Gaumont Palace, it was designed by cinema architect William Edward Trent and opened in 1934 – only the central section of the fascia survives.

The cinema auditorium when it opened

The demolition of the cinema auditorium


“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

9 Responses leave one →
  1. January 16, 2020

    I hate the loss of the Odeon; I love old movie theaters. Very sad, still, about the Queen’s Head on Tryon.

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 16, 2020


    How many more lovely buildings are going to suffer this horrible fate??

    But I was pleased to read a recent article by Oliver Wainwright about how there is a movement afoot in Europe to repurpose old buildings, and to recycle as much building material as possible rather than start every new build project from scratch.

    He also re-stated the point about how the VAT rules in the country are in favour of new builds, and how changing that could be a major step in the right direction.

    Perhaps we should start a major campaign of lobbying MPs to persuade them of the ethical, ecological and economic reasons to do this as soon as possible to stop the ghastliness spreading even further?

  3. James Harrison permalink
    January 16, 2020

    Where I live, we have a case of reverse historical facadism. One street of ostensibly grand Georgian frontages hide the buildings’ original medieval structures standing behind.

    Seems our Georgian architects thought nothing of stamping their “modern” design on the front of the town’s existing 300 year old properties. I don’t suppose they ever considered they might be accused of “tarting up” the existing houses with their “modernisation”!

    However, today’s facadism reflects a lack of confidence in our own architectural abilities muddled with the apparent desperate need to “modernise” everything in sight.

  4. Gilbert O'Brien permalink
    January 16, 2020

    Interesting article about Denman Street and the Curse of Facadism. Denman Street and the surrounding development is part of an historically long, long, running saga dating back to at least 1945, during which time there have been many attempts to rebuild on the site. The frontage onto Piccadilly and Shaftesbury Avenue was known as the Monico Site, after the famous Edwardian restaurant that was there until the SS gave a new meaning to the concept of development potential. The site, and indeed the whole (re)development of Piccadilly (up into Regent Street, where there was a proposal for unlimited vehicle traffic only at ground level, with exclusively pedestrian walkways at first floor level up as far as Oxford Circus), was a contentious and much fought-over proposal (actually one of a series of proposals) in the 50s and 60s. The Monico Site was an especially bitter fight as I remember it, and the hideous building that eventually went up on the site was the end result of many compromises and little insight or taste. It is what is known in this household as ‘revenge development’ a particular kind of development which is common in London (or common ‘to’ London?) and there are instances of this all over the town. (Peter Palumbo’s Mappin & Webb development, No. 1 Poultry, is another example, where an acrimonious battle of at least 25 years resulted in a building of arguably better quality and design than anything that went up in Piccadilly.) That the building whose frontage faced onto Shaftesbury Avenue has been demolished (ugly, tarnished ‘gold’ tiles; rough, brutalist columns; an unlit and dark back-stepped ‘arcade’, the chief benefit of which was to give shelter to the many homeless people who have slept there off and on since the building was built; and a series of dim, unvisited and unprofitable restaurants [sic] which have serially gone bust over the past 45 years) is not a bad thing. So it is not surprising that commercial forces and the perhaps darker motives I ascribe to the development history of the site have resulted in the sole (?) remaining building being reduced to a facade is not surprising. If the whole concept of facadism was not evidence of such a corrupt understanding of architecture and the environment one might almost want to be grateful for the token reminder of what a building of stone, or bricks and mortar, once signified. But my larger point (yes — it was a long time coming) is that this facade in Denman Street may in the future provide other generations a clue, a single remaining piece of a puzzle, a reminder of a long running and bravely fought battle, many battles in fact, to the history of what has evolved over the past 70-odd years, and we might come to look on the Denman Street facade as a tombstone to mark the passing of a place we once knew and loved. It isn’t enough, of course. And we should never have allowed it to happen. But it might just be enough to identify the villains who have tried to obliterate the past.

  5. paul loften permalink
    January 16, 2020

    In a strange way, I was a professional in the world of books dealing with those who abused public libraries It was a job I loved, never even applying for another job in all my 30 years of serving a treasured public service. My office was in a library basement of a huge building set deep amongst the dark and dusty archives of the rows of reserve stock. My desk was situated at the end of thousands of rows of out of print books shelved in rolling stacks operated by giant steel wheels that moved them back and forth, often myself taking down a rare book and perusing the pages
    . I have a signed copy of the Creeping Plague of Ghastly Facadism in front of me It is a book worth owning not just for its unique cover and design. The Gentle Author tells the story of how London’s history is being taken away before our eyes and replaced by imagery. Anyone who does not own a copy of this beautifully written book should take this great opportunity to attend this lecture and buy a copy from the author in person. and also hear the stories behind the book

  6. Linda Granfield permalink
    January 16, 2020

    We have the same thing going on in Toronto.
    They either save the façade or ‘oops, too bad it fell down and now we can’t use it’ happens.

    Does Dante have a level in Hell for Facadists?
    Maybe they have to spend eternity rebuilding what they destroyed?

  7. Jo N permalink
    January 16, 2020

    I too was in Piccadilly Circus the other day and was shocked that its essence had totally disappeared – now I understand why. No building visible behind the ad-screens, because there isn’t one! How does something like this get through planning?

  8. Irene Potter permalink
    January 17, 2020

    Its dreadful! All in the name of progress! It breaks my heart as I hate to see all these changes. Thank you for your wonderful articles. Always a joy to read of bygone days.

  9. January 24, 2020

    I grew up in Chelsea until I was 11, so really concerned to see yet another piece of my old history changing unnecessarily out of all recognition. The Sloane Square end and near surrounds were still still totally recognisable when I was there last year, but lots of places going up the Kings Road towards the Worlds End now seem to be having a radical change. Madness! And sadness.

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