How London Design Goes Wrong


Why is it that good design ideas in London so often get screwed up? I think of the astoundingly ugly Orbit Tower in the Olympic Park, which they’re now thinking of sticking a slide inside to encourage someone to like it, or the grotesquely disproportionate, naff statue of the kissing couple in St Pancras Station, and can’t imagine who looked at them and thought they were a good idea. But perhaps they were better on the drawing board.

Here’s a good example of the problem at work. This is the model for the city’s first natural swimming pool, cleaned and oxygenated by reeds (there’s a wonderful example of this kind of pool at work at the Scarlet Hotel in Cornwall), and here’s what we’ve ended up with. Nothing else in the city has red and white concrete blocks stuck around it – is it something to do with Health & Safety? Could the council behind it be the same people responsible for putting ugly steel railings around the graceful new fountains in Russell Square?

Why can’t we trust people to not slip up, and fall into things? If you go to the top of the aquaduct in Avignon, France, you can walk across it without handrails – the narrow sky-high path is filled with toddlers and old ladies with dogs, and they manage to avoid plummeting to their deaths. Londoners, however, need to be treated as if they are invalids without brains.



The opening celebration of King's Cross Pond Club

The opening celebration of King’s Cross Pond Club

4 comments on “How London Design Goes Wrong”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    If a burglar were chased by a policeman across this area and fell into the pool, breaking an arm and ruining his clothes, would he have cause for a suit against the council for harbouring a hazard? Or worse, a ten year old is liberating her goldfish into the pool, slips, and drowns. Would her parents have an “attractive hazard” case? Municipal lawyers have too much scope for “what if” thinking.

  2. RobertR says:

    Working within local government (although not in London) it’s two problematic issues i) the Insurance Companies have over the past 20-25 years raised the premiums for Local Authorities, as a response to the springing up of “no win, no fee” lawyers who adopted the American approach that anything that goes wrong in your life, or any accident has to be the fault of some organisation, company, individual who you can sue. At it’s most basic are falls due to uneven paving or kerbstones (plus now all the spurious claims for such – which have to be investigated and proved false, so more wasted council officer time); to the grandly ridiculous the person who fell into their wheelie bin, or tried to claim for the leaves from a neighbouring park which they had to clear from their garden each Autumn!
    ii) It leads to Council lawyers & Finance staff always being over cautious risk averse so for example on a new estate there is a wildlife pond (which was designed to be a focal/meeting point of the estate) surrounded by a 4ft fence to prevent children drowning (or possibly getting wet) in addition the life-saving ring got removed, as if a child/individual drowned and it was found the ring had been stolen/thrown into the pond and not replaced by the Council – a case could be made that the Council was at fault, and taken through the courts. Now if you drown it’s only your fault!
    Better still was attending a preparatory meeting ahead of an annual fun/community sports day in the largest and most well established local park, where a colleague did in all seriousness suggest that either all the well established TPO’d trees in the park have their lower branches all removed to avoid the risk/chance of a random branch falling and injuring someone; or that the event could only take place in the open grassland with all other areas barriered/marked off to keep the public away from the trees (oddly he hadn’t considered that the public was free to walk beneath/picnic/play around the trees for the rest of the days in the year!)

  3. Vivienne says:

    Luckily you can still walk along by the river near me at Strand on the Green with no wall, railings or anything, just like a Venetian canal. I recall going up the tower at Pisa, where you have to walk outside to get to the stairs for the next level. It had been raining, the marble was smooth as ice and I had small children in tow. We held hands, backs to the wall and inched round on the outwardly sloping side. The Italians clearly didn’t mind if the stupid type came down by the speedy route.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I have sympathy for municipal councils and remember a case from Ontario where a municipal gravel pit was fenced ’round with a chain link fence, barbed wire on the top, and signs every few feet warning people to keep out. A ten year old climbed over the fence, fell and was injured so badly he became a quadriplegic. The family sued the municipality for harboring an attractive danger and won. I’m sure the suit was brought to get money to care for the child but still! Why should the insurance people pay for the actions of a careless child old enough to know better?

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