Is London Losing Its Views?
For me, one of the most unspoilt old views of London is one of its least visited – the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, a site associated with the sons of Bach and Benjamin Franklin, John Polidori, Mary Wollstonecraft, Dickens, Hardy, Byron, Shelley and Gilbert Scott. It may well be the oldest site of Christian worship in Europe, and maintained an unbroken vista of woodland and water.
Or it did until recently. Now, that graceful vista has been shattered by a great looming row of FutureSlums™ – sorry, ‘luxury loft lifestyle apartments’ – that look like stacked garden sheds, built along the north side of the Regent Canal. Nobody seems to have mentioned this anywhere.
It’s the latest view to lose its, er, view, and certainly won’t be the last. Photoshopped pictures show what a wonderful lifestyle everyone will have. I’m particularly fond of the above ‘photo’ that makes North London look like the Six Senses, Thailand.
It’s a fabulous piece of marketing trickery, foreshortening wide vistas to make them look more spacious and photographing new developments at dusk with the lights on, giving them a spacious natural feel. Try seeing them on a wet Saturday morning when the sky is the colour of an unemptied bowl three months after the goldfish has died. Properties like these are usually offered off-plan in Singapore; developers know their market.
London is not alone in having ‘protected views’ – San Francisco has them too. They’re to preserve the view of a specific place or historic building from another location. The effect is to limit the height of new buildings within or adjacent to the sightline between the two places so as to preserve the ability to see the landmark as a focus of the view. The protection may also cover the area behind the place or building concerned.
But St Paul’s protected view, with its key sightlines, has been clearly compromised by the Shard and several other new buildings around it. From where I sit typing this, the dome is lost among blocks of grey concrete. It wasn’t a year ago. When you blow up the image, you can see the dome is lost.
For centuries Tower Green in the Tower of London, where Anne Boleyn lost her head, was a perfect view, uninterrupted in any direction. It had become accidentally protected because it sat lower in the ground than the surrounding pavements and buildings, which had risen around it, but not high enough to break the skyline. That was before Tower 42 stuck its ugly blank face into the shot, photobombing London’s best historical selfie.
‘O Death, O Death, rock me asleepe,
Bring me to quiet rest;
Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast.’
The bottom line? Views don’t make money. Buildings do.