We cannot escape the high-tech glass and metallic “global architecture” of Lord Foster of Thames Bank. He claimed that “the unique shape” of his Greater London Authority Building, the backwardsleaning testicular lump over which Boris Johnson now presides, and which disfigures the banks of the Thames, “was generated as a result of rigorous scientific analysis”.
The same process also produced Foster’s nearby Swiss Re building (the Gherkin), which, he boasted, “can be likened to a cigar or a bullet”, though it is hard to understand how a bullet could “respond”, as Foster claimed, “to the specific demands of the small site”. This giant, bulging tower overshadows Sir Christopher Wren’s St Helen’s Bishopsgate, yet Foster has dared pay lip service to the notion that “London is essentially a low-rise city”.
His Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia and his Cambridge Law Faculty both house numerous varied functions in a single bubble of space, causing problems for those who have to work in them. Once the Law Faculty building was in use, for example, it was found that the library was so noisy that a large glass screen wall had to be inserted to remedy the situation. Yet Foster explained that before designing the building, “we had to ask ourselves, what is the essence of Cambridge?” Who would have guessed that the search for this essence would result in a sliced-off glass slug? Foster’s Stansted Airport terminal was considered successful because its glass walls enabled travellers to admire those parts of the Essex countryside that it had not destroyed. This was, of course, before the passion for airport retailing filled the interior with shops blocking its former transparency.