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Letter to Charlotte
9 May, 2023
To: Charlotte Malterre-Barthes, revered agent provocateur and Assistant Professor of Architectural and Urban Design, School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, EPFL, 1015 Switzerland
I was walking past the empty building, the one clad in white tiles in the photos above, that was for 45 (brilliant) years (as the poster says) the Museum of London. As I did, a question occurred to me that, as it seemed to me, you were the best person to ask. I’ve attached this letter to a graphic novel of yours and knowing of your calls for action around a moratorium on construction, these are my justifications.
My question is:
how can an existing building be (made) as enticing to a developer seeking maximum profit as the possibility of an ’empty’ site?
Not long ago, residents of the Barbican received a letter from the City of London Corporation about this site of contention. That is, the old Museum of London (now moving to a new location in the reconfigured Smithfields Market), which the letter refers to as “London Wall West”. This building complex was once to be demolished to make space for Simon Rattle’s new concert hall for the Barbican and paid for by a tower of luxury above, now orphaned by the making do and getting by with the existing hall.
But still, here’s this empty building that is quite difficult to reuse assigned a very short time to “explore market appetite of refubishing London Wall West.” It is hard to imagine how the Corporation will be “encouraging potential developers to express their interest in the site.”
I can only imagine, in my superficial understanding of these issues, that legislation or substantial financial subsidy would begin to make this a prospect that could possibly meet the required profit margins of most developers. Or perhaps a different strategy of interim use, postponing ‘development’ while strategies for “the Square Mile’s governing body to achieve netzero in its operations by 2027” exist. The ambition for the “City as a whole to reach net zero by 2040” seems a little too late.
Any thoughts on potential ways to approach these questions would be appreciated,
Helen Thomas of Women Writing Architecture
PS after I started writing this letter to you (sometime in April), the Barbican Quarter Action group sent everyone their sceptical, hopeful response.