If in doubt, think about historical precedent

28 - 30 November 2018, RAI Amsterdam

If in doubt, think about historical precedent

This has been a strange time for London. The Brexit vote has prompted much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of people who think only their votes should count. The other noise drowning out rational discussion has been the squawking of headless chickens (as it were): people rushing about claiming we are about to expel EU nationals or take away their businesses, and that Britain is ‘finished’.  When a firm of solicitors best known for making fortunes out of divorce cases suddenly pleads the virtues of enforced marriage, you know something odd is going on.

Why don’t all these people get a grip? I could not help contrasting their behaviour with the impressive dignity and sense of unity generated by various memorials to the Battle of the Somme. Those really were crisis years, but the way some Remainers are talking, you would think we are undergoing the same traumas 100 years on. References to Princess Diana and even 9/11 suggest that emotional spasm is, at least for some, the order of the day.

‘We don’t know what is going to happen next’, complain a variety of architects. I have news for them: radical uncertainty is the only certainty, in or out of the EU. If you want to blame anyone for not having a detailed plan in place in the event of a leave vote, blame the government which called the referendum, but arrogantly assumed it was bound to ‘win’, not bothering to think about a Plan B. Happily we can take our time about the speed at which we proceed.

On to cheerier matters, but most certainly related to history. I had the pleasure of visiting one of London’s best-kept secrets the other day: a former rum warehouse close to Tower Bridge. It is, wait for it, 350m long and is part of the London Docks complex in Wapping, a major facility completed in 1815, little of which survives. The North Quay warehouses did survive; they are immediately next to where Rupert Murdoch ran his strike-breaking printing operation in buildings now demolished.

(In a slightly spooky way, Murdoch’s private security firm which monitored Fortress Wapping was an echo of the private security personnel used to guard the wine and spirit warehouses in the London Docks – who morphed into the Metropolitan Police in 1829.)

What is replacing the printworks is an impressive housing development being designed by Patel Taylor who won a competition not just for 2,000 homes, but for a masterplan covering 15 acres, more than six of which will be open space of one sort or another. The finger-plan arrangement of several of the proposed residential blocks is reminiscent of a dock model, and looks set to be a commercial hit.

Happily, the rum warehouse, which comprises basement and ground-floor space, is being retained, but will be punctured through to create new connectivity across the site and to its surroundings, and will also have top-lighting at various points. A variety of uses is envisaged; ‘meanwhile’ uses include 90 artists’ studios, and developer Berkeley St George will be wise if it retains creative use as part of the ethos of the place. No doubt it will have been encourage by the office party it held in the basement, where Paloma Faith was guest star . . .

This project is proof, if any were needed, that there is no shortage of housing sites in London, merely a shortage of political will to properly identify them, though Sadiq Khan may be more effective on this than his predecessor, via Transport for London.

By the way, I note that Tony Pidgley, head of the Berkeley Group, snapped up £800,000 worth of shares in his own company as the Stock Market panicked in the wake of the Brexit vote. No headless chicken he. 


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