...in the bottom drawer
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currently stashed in: Cheshire Street, London
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July 15, 2005 || 11:35 am

I visited the East End today for the first time since I got into the country. It was much as I left it - more boutiques, more impossibly trendy 16 year olds on the streets making me feel ancient, etc - but the most - well, not shocking, I suppose, as I knew it woudl be thus, but certainly depressing - change was to see Norman Foster's monstrosity at Bishop's Square nearly finished, and some equally monstrous things being built inside Spitalfields Market.

I am, like most people, a big fan of much of Foster's work - the Gherkin, his earlier stuff at Stansted and the Sainsbury Centre - and I've been in meetings with him and found him extremely observant, attentive and intelligent. But I find it both inexplicable and scandalous that he allows his office to produce buildings like Bishop's Square. There is no aspect of it that is remotely acceptable. The urban design, the building design, its attitude to both its historical context and the innovation that is always meant to be a driving force behind Foster's work: all of these are mediocre, watered down and numbed - a total lack of any creativity, style or sensitivity.

It is, perhaps, no worse than most commercial developments in the financial district (apart from its effect on the historic market buildings). But Foster and Partners should not be allowed to get away with such a low quality of work. And instead of the robust criticism that the architectural press might level at him, there is an ominous silence; and no doubt when the buildings are completed, there will be a faintly praising, if not positively sycophantic, series of reviews in the journals.

For me this is the real scandal - that we don't demand more of our architectural superstars, and hold them to account when they fail, because our public deserves better. If quality is really to improve in this country, we had better stop being so soft on all the mediocre architecture that I see getting praised every week in the press and, I'm afraid, by CABE and other organisations. I know the argument that we need to demonstrate support for any effort to build something half-decent. But CABE's design guidelines and all the other policies intended to give us 'better urban design' shouldn't mean half-arsed and badly detailed modernism on every corner. Clients who cut corners, planners who don't have a clue, architects who can't be bothered and contractors who don't care do, I'm afraid, need a kick up the butt. I would like to see a series of really stinging reviews of the truly awful stuff that goes up, criticising not only the architects but clients and planners too - but then the hacks wouldn't get all their free dinners and fees for sitting on awards panels, so that's not going to happen...

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