Creative Tension in London Architecture

The merger between old and new architecture in old cities has been an age old grumble - so to state that there is creative tension in London architecture is not by any means an unexpected or controversial statement. As diverse as London is culturally, this diversity is reflected in the mix of old and new architecture. Whether or not a modern, glass skyscraper (not finger-pointing in the direction of the Shard) fits within its neighbouring Georgian terraces and 12th Century church is a question of taste, in many cases, and the 'suitability' of some new buildings causes plenty of discussion amongst the public.

The Shard, designed by architect Renzo Piano, is a good example that illustrates the stark contrast between the slick, commercial glass architecture and the Victorian terraced streets and the infamous Borough Market shadowed by the former. The new skyscraper dwarfs its Brutalist neighbour, the concrete tower of Guy's hospital, which when it was built in 1974 was the tallest hospital building in the world. The contrast is clear that within our generation, there has been a massive shift from public to private, from the functional concrete of a dominant public sector to the slick glass commercial architecture.

The Shards and the Gherkins of London may stand starkly against the traditional Victorian low-rise streets but let's not forget that London is not just a city of great contrasts but a city that has changed and absorbed architecture from all ages into its design. Arguably, the ability to adapt is what has made London an enduring success - it may not be the most sophisticated design or even the most thoughtful layout. In fact, London, unlike many continental cities, has no master plan. It is a living city that changes, grows and adapts depending on architectural trends, the economy, its residents and demand.

In fact, the capital's recent reinvention as an asset class for foreign investment, combined with the Government's plans to reduce the welfare bill, the fabric of London can be expected to change most radically in the coming years as the remaining working-class Londoners are pushed out of the city centre.

Whilst preserving the traditional and existing fabric of London is no doubt important, the redevelopment of London housing is drawing attention to an ongoing and ever growing 'problem' - the mediocrity of the fabric. Victorian terraces, although traditional and quite charming, were not built for their architectural beauty or even to be particularly high-quality - they are undemanding and basic in comparison to the housing in cities like Paris or Rome.

Can our city centre cope with the influx (and need) for foreign investment in the property market? Arguably, the mis-match of terraced housing and poorly maintained Victorian buildings - which over the years have accumulated a patch-work of repairs and unregulated changes - are diminishing in beauty and traditional value. The lack of planning (compare London to the conformist grid of Manhattan) makes it a difficult task to 'preserve' the look of the city as a whole.

However, it is this ad hoc environment and blend of the good, the bad and the ugly that allows London to constantly reinvent itself. London is not stagnating in the old which means it never seems to be in danger of getting too beautiful - perhaps this is a good thing. These are the qualities that have allowed for fantastic solutions like Tate Modern in the old Bankside Power Station, Central St Martins art school in a converted granary at Kings Cross and even the future planned development of the iconic Battersea Power Station. Surely these reuses of interesting buildings counterweigh the addition of a few modern glass skyscrapers?

Personally, although the issue is and always will be contentious, I would rather see London thrive into the 21st century and remain a city full of interesting architecture that reads like a history book through the ages, than be stuck with an ageing mis-match of slowly deteriorating terraced houses and a growing number of listed buildings like Trellick Tower.