4 February 2022
Adjourned sine die
On Monday a demolition firm was appointed to prepare the site for the new City of London Law Courts; the contractor that will build the complex had been announced a week earlier. Clearance should have begun at the end of last year with construction starting this August, but despite that timeline slipping and amenity groups criticising the project’s sustainability the City Corporation is still projecting completion in 2026.
A reminder of the story so far: Planning permission was granted in April 2021 to erect a multi-jurisdictional courthouse, police station and headquarters and commercial office block around two sides of a remodelled Salisbury Square on the south side of Fleet Street. Eric Parry Architects (EPA) is leading, with Fielden + Mawson and the Raymond Smith Partnership assisting. It’s been two years since the plans were first announced and since then a series of posts has seen me tease out what is intended from surprisingly limited pictures and plans, assess those predictions against the actual application when it final emerged and of course critique the designs as an architectural historian and criminal justice system professional. What arose from that effort remains my key concern: the purported ‘civic’ quality of the courthouse.
EPA appears to define this primarily as the need to include some crests, carved quotes and integrated art on the building rather than anything architectonic. The large, awkwardly-massed building that results thus lacks clarity of purpose, a sense of gravitas or any recognition of local context, with idiosyncratic detailing and a struggling ground floor and streetscape hardly helping. I’m unclear why the practice chooses “connections through the site” as the other metric by which the courthouse’s virtue is to be assessed. More widely, the police and commercial buildings are solid but unexciting, I am disappointed in the changes to Salisbury Square and find the loss of period buildings to enable all of this regrettable for aesthetic and urban planning reasons rather than those mentioned above.
More imagery appeared on EPA’s website the day after the planning grant, though in the form of a sumptuous if slightly curious short film. Two barristers and two police officers stroll through the Inns of Court and City streets, passing great legal institutions of the last couple of centuries that are called out in captions. They end up, of course, at their respective buildings in the Salisbury Square development, these inserted via photorealistic CGI. We are clearly intended to accept its architecture as the latest, natural step in that richly historic timeline.
Fair enough, I guess, but on closer inspection the courthouse seems to be populated entirely by the young and the glamourous (not my experience at all) whilst an evening sequence set outside the police building has its own oddities. Presumably intended to simulate one of those television news reports, the smiling, silk-bloused ‘interviewee’, attractively hipster crowd and seductive slow motion make it resemble nothing so much as a Shoreditch after-party. Parry himself narrates the piece, with far more words devoted to the office block’s materials (“a carapace of unglazed terracotta on a base of warm polished pre-cast”) than those of the courthouse (“stone”).
The choice is revealing, I think, in the context of my other concerns. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.