Architect: James Stirling, Michael Wilford and Associates, 1997.
Stirling was a world-renowned architect, but on such a celebrated and valuable site it was almost inevitable that planning and commercial considerations would take priority.
Standing brazenly among three institutional icons (the Mansion House, Bank of England and Royal Exchange), Stirling’s design reads like a ship that has run aground at the most prominent intersection of the Square Mile. Originally intended for Mies van der Rohe’s tower and plaza, the site, owned at the time by developer Peter Palumbo, was subject to twenty years of debate concerning the shape of its new building. The planners were finally persuaded by Stirling's jaunty, allusive wedge; seemingly a happy compromise acceptable to both conservationist and contemporary factions.
Yet perhaps unsurprisingly, the building received a mixed reception. For many, it was a posthumous exercise in Post-Modernism, a movement that was arguably dead and buried. For others, Stirling’s undulating and dynamic edifice perfectly encapsulated the unforgiving pace of the deregulated City, whilst its classical references (the ‘all-over’ rustication effect, exaggerated entablature, and sculpted frieze above the courtyard entrance on Poultry) point to tradition and longevity - the key to the City’s success. The Pevsner Guide considered the building’s "expression of interior volumes" rendered it a triumph: jagged fenestration seems to burst through its bulging pink and yellow limestone skin. When viewed from Cornhill or Threadneedle street, the structure’s bloated form seems to resist its pinched perspective. A synthesis of solid and void, its apparently swollen mass is disrupted by arched openings on either side, leading into a large courtyard allowing another access point to the Underground. The view of the City from the rooftop restaurant Coq d’Argent is worth seeing.
Best time to visit: anytime, although public access to the interior is extremely limited.
Address: No. 1 Poultry, London EC2R 8JR.