Friday, 24 December 2010

Neo-Bankside: a photographic encounter

As I entered the Tate Modern gallery the other day I passed by a series of advertising hoardings for a new luxury residential development entitled Neo-Bankside. These elaborate towers are to be situated next to the gallery’s new extension and are the latest stage in the relentless appropriation of London for the wealthy few. The computer generated images for these new apartments — designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + partners — seem to be beyond parody. The project represents a colossal misappropriation of resources at a time of intensifying housing shortages in London. Richard Rogers — the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate — has been closely associated with recent debates over urban sustainability through his 1995 BBC Reith lectures “Cities for s small planet”, his role as chair of the UK Government’s Urban Task Force in 1998, and more recently as Chief Advisor on “architecture and urbanism” to the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. With these impressive credentials it seems impossible to believe that this proposed development is an anomaly or a mistake: it rather reveals the hubris of contemporary architectural discourse as espoused by Rogers and some of his high-profile contemporaries. To build better cities we need better social policy. Design, however, through its subservience to the whim of clients is always likely to play a marginal role. Perhaps the re-fashioning of London's Banskide as "neo-Bankside" is best interpreted as an ironic nod to "neo-liberalism" and the likely colonization of these apartments by those with bonus-boosted salaries.

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