london modern architecture

Construction is a constant part of London’s landscape today. Image Credit: Ho_hokus

London is a wonderful city replete with landmarks old and new around every corner. In its 2000 millennia of existence it has been in a perpetual state of flux, constantly reinventing itself and churning out new ideas. In fact, London seems to produce more ideas than what actually gets built. Some proposals are merely concepts, envisioning what could be with the right technology. Others are serious proposals, but often have little credibility or realistic chance of being built.

Sometimes London just isn’t ready for the crazy ideas we have to throw at it. In fact, London has dodged a bullet on more than one occasion, as in retrospect some proposals were just plain daft. Then there are those that went ahead that would’ve been unthinkable a few decades ago, such as the London Eye or The Shard, the latter a testament to Irvine Sellar taking a risk in difficult economic conditions, a foil to many other plans.

In BBC Four’s series Dreaming the Impossible: Unbuilt Britain, Sir Norman Foster pointed out that only one in ten architectural plans come to fruition. Looking at it like that, we could easily fill this post with unbuilt proposals, but instead we settled with a top ten, split into two parts, detailing everything from the small to the most ambitious to the downright ridiculous, but never forgettable.

1. Diana Memorial bridge

diana_bridgeA fitting tribute or a contrived catastropy? Image Credit: Fat Architecture

The Diana Memorial Bridge was proposed by Joanna Lumley the same year Lady Di died, as part of a competition for a bridge to link Bankside to St Paul’s Cathedral, of course won by the good old wobbly Millennium Bridge. As a precursor to The Garden Bridge, also endorsed by Lumley and looking likely to be built, it was designed as a living bridge, for people to frolic, enjoy views and picnic on (sound familiar?). But truth be told, it would have been slightly more than a bit twee- complete with the lyrics of Elton John’s Candle In the Wind, rerecorded as a tribute for Diana’s funeral, engraved on the side of the bridge for added cringefactor. We’re also not quite sure how the grass would have fared against the constant trampling of “picnickers.” Great for getting grass stains if you know what I’m saying!

2. Watkin’s Tower

352px-Watkins_Tower_EntwurfWatkins design, like many in the competition appear to predate space travel by 70 years. Houston we have a problem! Image Credit: Alabasterstein

watkin's towerImage Credit: Public Domain Review

Watkin’s Tower was an iron lattice tower designed in 1890 as a visitor attraction and folly to stand in Wembley Park, Wembley, as a counterpart and rival to Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Designed by railway entrepreneur Sir Edward Watkin, he sought to take advantage of burgeoning Metropolitan Line links, having bought land to develop as a business opportunity. Visitors were to pay for entrance to Wembley Park and the tower, frequenting two observation decks, restaurants, theatres and other amenities.

It would have pipped Monsieur Eiffel’s tower in height at 358 metres vs Eiffel’s 321 metres. Coincidence? Non! If built, it would even today still be London’s tallest structure, with the Shard at 309.6 metres. Fortunately for Eiffel, Watkin’s effort was not as refined, but was nonetheless the best of the bunch of a design competition, filled with ludicrous, strange and unbuildable designs. Construction started in 1892, but in the end financial woes led to Wembley Park opened in 1894, sans tower, with only the base completed and standing at 47 metres. Watkins death only compounded the situation and it sadly rusted away for years before being gratuitously dynamited in phases starting from 1907. Wembley eventually got its landmark however, one that would draw many from across the world – Wembley Stadium!

3. Great Victorian Way

Crystal_Palace_Great_Exhibition_tree_1851Paxton designed The Crystal Palace, pictured above, which inspired The Great Victorian Way. Image Credit: Tldtld

Joseph Paxton, who built the Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition, proposed a grand project around 1855 as a solution to chronic congestion in central London. It would have encased shops, railways and roads in a huge covered glass “girdle” around central London. Dubbed the crystal way, it would have followed a route similar to that of the Circle Line

It was not lacking in ambition, designed to keep the rain, fog and smoke off Londoners, creating a safe environment to travel, shop and live in. It came close to being built, gaining parliamentary backing, but was sunk when Great Stink and a cholera epidemic came about in 1858, presenting London with more immediate and pressing needs. London ditched the glass and instead got itself a sewer, some manky brick viaducts – the nearest thing we’ll ever get to a glimmering crystal way… and the Circle Line. Enough said.


4. Coin Street Development 

 194_0008_1_WRoger’s plans were a bold, new vision for the Southbank. Image Credit: Richard Rogers

Richard Rogers is never one to shy away from bold proposals, and his plans for Waterloo, Charing Cross and Embankment would’ve been nothing short of revolutionary. He planned to close and replace Charing Cross Station, moving the terminus south to the southbank, closing the utilitarian and much hatedHungerford bridge. Three futuristic towers in the same vein of the Lloyds tower would rise from the Thames, linked to the Northbank via a footbridge. The Thames Embankment would’ve be tunnelled underground and a tree lined promenade built in its place. Perhaps the changes were too profound and scared the bejeezus out of city planners, but essentially the plans were dropped as commercial developers looked east to the burgeoning Canary Wharf.

5. Tower Bridge Reclad

unbuilt_towerbridgeglassFragile plans for Tower Bridge. Image Credit: Londonist

Tower Bridge, symbol of London, one of the most recognisable buildings in the world. But for some this isn’t enough. W.F.C Holden wanted to encase the bridge in steel and glass, giving it an art deco streamline modern makeover. Crazy as his plan sounded, they were at the very least commendable, designed to protect the structure during World War II. Not surprisingly, very few people were enamoured towards his idea and the chances of it ever being built were tenuous to say the least.

Check back next Friday for the next five unbuilt projects of London. And, in the meantime, why not check out the Insider London modern architecture tour for the very latest in grand plans for the city?