Friday, 31 August 2012

Modern iconic architecture in the WIP

Most large scale modern architecture does not appeal to me
; it's too big, too in-your-face and lacks manners towards neighbouring buildings. Often boringly simple, too; I'm prejudiced against the sort of building you can take in at one glance. Try doing that with St Paul's, or the Palace of Westminster; there's too much subtlety of form and wealth of decoration. But in Ice Diaries, the novel I'm currently two thirds through writing, London is covered in twenty metres of snow from which only the tallest buildings emerge, and they are almost exclusively new buildings. 

  • B├ęzier: This is a luxury block of flats on Old Street roundabout where my heroine, Tory, lives. Her flat is at snow level on the tenth floor. It's a distinctive building shaped like two half barrels. The manager very kindly showed me round, which was useful.
  • The Gherkin: I'm quite fond of the Gherkin. It's an interesting addition to London's skyline, though it's now disappearing behind the tedious rectangular blocks of more recent even taller buildings. It has an innovative double skin that makes it extremely energy-efficient. My cage fighter hero hides his snowmobile there.
  • The Barbican: brutalist sixties concrete, for a while the tallest residential blocks in Europe, built on an area bombed to rubble by the Germans in WW2. An historical part of London where Pepys once bought a table, it's a great loss to the City. The Barbican's layout is so maze-like it's unwise to try to cut across it. Beth Two in Replica was chased through the Barbican by MI5. In Ice Diaries, Tory and Morgan go to a ceilidh there in Shakespeare Tower.
  • Strata: also known locally as Isengard or the Razor, this is a 43 storey block of flats of supreme ugliness at the Elephant and Castle on the south side of the Thames. It won the Carbuncle Award 2010 for 'the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last twelve months'. It has three wind turbines on top. In my novel, this enables the commune living there to have electricity.
I feel the novel really should include the Shard, for the sake of completeness. But, unless the end of my book surprises me, its only appearance will be on the cover. (I've just redone the cover, and am as pleased as Punch and Judy with it.)


  1. There are some wonderful modern buildings - such as the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which seems to peer out from between the older buildings like an apology and is simply stunning inside!

  2. I've looked up the Guggenheim Museum, and don't much like the outside - it's not on a human scale, and you can't see the windows, though the interior is impressive.

    I'm not against modern architecture; I believe it should be beautiful and add to its surroundings, and not many architects achieve this. They are rather better at attracting attention to themselves.

  3. I have to admit to being most fond of the Gherkin too! It's a great sight to see as my train pulls up into Liverpool Street! The Shard is totally puny and indistinct compared to it!

    Oh the Barbican. I sort of like it now. I think it's the yellow lines!

    Take care

  4. Kitty, I pictured you in a cottage with roses round the door, not in London. But perhaps you get a train from the cottage to Liverpool Street...

    Have you read this blog about an illegal climb of the Shard? Great stuff:

  5. I sometimes like to visit locations after reading a novel. For example I now want to see the Black Cuillin on Skye, after reaading Linda Gillard's 'Star Gazing'.

    So I'm all in favour of peppering a novel with real locations. If you're after the American market though, the view from an aeroplane coming in to land at Heathrow might be good! LOL

    I do agree about so much modern architecture. It's so often cheap boring and functional. Best to bury it under snow!

    One can go to the other extreme of course. I once sent a friend a postcard showing a beautiful ancient church in Munich. He wasn't impressed with the incredible detail of the carving and stonework, commenting that the even the angels have nipples!

    Hard to please everyone! LOL

  6. Yes, I like real locations in books so I can check them out on Google Street View from the comfort of my desk :o)

    I find middle eastern decoration on architecture overwhelming. But I love medieval buildings, which are beautiful from a distance and close to. Even the inaccessible bits that are hardly ever seen are beautiful. Victorian architecture, once so despised, is very good. They got the human scale bit right, but also did magnificent entrances for large buildings, something modern architects seldom bother with.

  7. In my twenties, I lived in London and took it for granted. When living abroad, I yearned for London, particularly the classic architecture.

    I sometimes wonder who allows some buildings to be erected, not only in London, but around the world. My mind strays to brown envelopes changing hands (yes, yes, I know, I shouldn't watch so much television).

    Perhaps you could squeeze the Shard in - it would look like an icicle or stalacmite. But it's nice to know that writers have the option, if they don't like something, to ignore it conspicuously. Writers need perks.

    The Gherkin - I agree, Lexi, I've become fond of it too.

    San Francisco was a place I wanted to visit purely because of what had been written about it in songs. Words are powerful.

  8. Aha, wait till you see the cover, Anna...

    Certainly in Hackney, one problem is that the planners who will decide whether a new building gets planning permission work hand in glove with the developers at the planning stage. After that, it is unlikely to be rejected, whatever the views of surrounding residents and businesses when they are 'consulted'.

  9. Have to say your covers of Replica and Remix are nice. Replica in particular has a bit of Paul Klee about it....your next cover should be interesting !

  10. You've made me look up Paul Klee, and some of his paintings really appeal to me. I wish I were that good with colour...

  11. Hi Lexi I hope you don't mind me dropping by just to let you know about my short story which as been published in a Crime collection by Bridgehouse publishing. There is a link to it on my blog.

    Best wishes,