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currently stashed in: Cheshire Street, London
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July 15, 2005 || 6:23 pm
More rants about buildings

On the subject of more mediocre architecture, I rode the bus through most of Hackney today on my way down to the Docklands for lunch. I saw the new Hackney Empire finally finished (when I left it was still partially shrouded in scaffolding). It's not a bad building, by any means, and I can see what Tim Ronalds was trying to do. It was also a really horrendously managed process for which I am sure much blame must lie with the client, and this inevitably had a negative effect on the design.

But somewhere in the process, some rather strange decisions were made - the way they used terracotta on the new portion of the facade (to blend in with the old?) is quite strange and really a bit naff, and the decision to clad the fly tower in Reglit over what presumably is some kind of solid panel underneath - why use Reglit when you don't need to let light in? If it was to make the bulk of the tower less imposing, it doesn't really work (although I could see that there might have been an idea about the colour blending in with the London grey skies). Plus, it's the only really 'slick' material visible from the outside and thus also is rather strange.

But that whole square in Hackney is a huge missed opportunity. The abysmal, PFI-funded Technology and Learning Centre, whose team should never be allowed to build again (well, they include Hodder Associates who are going to the wolves over the Swimming Pool Disaster, so...) is a classic example of the trade press praising a hugely horrible building ("restores civic pride to Hackney" said Building Magazine). It won PFI building of the year, which is even more depressing. The old town hall looks a bit sad and in need of a clean. The Hackney Ocean is probably the most successful of the buildings - a genuinely popular and innovative venue for music, club nights and much more.

But the patch of grass with benches and statues in the middle of all these is really a disgrace. Why, when pumping money into all these buildings, did Hackney not see that it might be worth spending a few bob getting rid of the ridiculous little stone walls that cut it up into segments, maybe getting rid of the grass altogether seeing as it is so minimal and scraggy, installing some decent paving and benches and encouraging people to not drop their litter by providing somewhere that doesn't look like a dustbin? If it is the 'civic heart' of Hackney, it's so depressing that a little simple TLC hasn't been considered for it...

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