Profession and public are united in their condemnation of Viñoly’s Walkie Talkie

But, while the Walkie Talkie is nearly full, the Cheesegrater struggles to find tenants, says Rory Olcayto

Is there a more hated structure in Britain? For once, it seems the profession and the public – and the critics, too – are united in their condemnation of a building – Rafael Viñoly’s Walkie Talkie, less commonly known as 20 Fenchurch Street and sometimes referred to as the ‘Fryscraper’ (because its concave facade, like a magnifying glass, melted cars and fried eggs on pans arranged on the streets below, before a protective film was applied).

Back in 2007, former RIBA president George Ferguson, in an interview with City AM, said the Land Securities tower was a ‘child’s concept’ and that London’s skyline was too important for ‘ugly buildings’. That, then, is the voice of the profession speaking.

walkie talkie

How about the public? Here’s Mike Chamberlain, Perl developer, all-round geek, and coffee addict (that’s what his profile says) on Twitter: ‘It appears the solution to the death ray on the walkie talkie blding [sic] is to make it so ugly that light bends around it.’

And the critics? Here’s Robert Bevan, of the London Evening Standard: ‘Greedy architecture, slack planning and fake public space.’

Even ‘concept architect’ Rafael Viñoly, estranged from its design development and construction by executive architect Adamson Associates, is loosening ties with his Land Securities love-child: ‘My name is on it but it’s not my building,’ he told Architectural Record.

The AJ has still to offer its definitive view, and we will do so once a thorough tour of the building has taken place. In the meantime, here’s something to mull over: while its near-neighbour The Leadenhall building, aka the Cheesegrater, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and highly praised, struggles to find tenants for its more expensive – and increasingly smaller – upper floors, the Walkie Talkie is nearly fully let, with its expanding girth the taller it goes proving a hit with City tenants. Does this simple fact make Viñoly’s design better than it has been given credit for? Or is it simply a case of tenants following Guy de Maupassant’s lead? Famously the French writer regularly dined at the Eiffel Tower because it was the one place he wasn’t subjected to views of the hated edifice.

Sky-high cost of Olympicopolis bidding

The competition to design ‘Olympicopolis’, a new Culture and Education Quarter in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is under way and attracting a range of talented ‘superteams’ enticed by the unique ‘arts-education-science-technology nexus’ that the complex brief demands.

Yet, with multi-disciplinary teams required to have an annual combined turnover of £25 million for each of the past three years, with the lead consultant expected to have an annual turnover of £5 million, there are groans among many in the profession who are tired of ‘the usual suspects’ being shortlisted time and again. They have a point: some of Britain’s best architects wouldn’t be able to compete under these conditions. As one observer, who wished to remain anonymous, observed: ‘It is set up like the Olympic procurement but it is nowhere near as large. This approach leads to exclusion and is anti-innovation.’

Furthermore, the honorarium for shortlisted teams, at £10,000, appears slim. One consultant familiar with such projects said teams could spend up to 10 times that on a project of this scale, a more modest estimate by a leading architect coming in at £50-£60,000. RIBA’s response is little better than ‘Tough’. It advises that entering the Olympicopolis is a business decision architects will have to weigh up. Instead it could have pointed out that the remuneration is way off the mark – and it could have done this by asking its members, as we did – and called for the client competition organisers, to think again. Twitter: @roryolcayto

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Updated: 19.10.2014 — 14:38