Christopher Costelloe is director of the Victorian Society, says Yes
Despite tough competition – the new UBS HQ in Broadgate promises to be quite remarkably ugly when completed – the Walkie Talkie is probably the ugliest building in London. We owe its architect, Rafael Vinoly, a great debt for demonstrating precisely why almost all buildings remain the same width or taper as they rise.
Go to the Design Museum and look through Tower Bridge at the Walkie Talkie’s looming bulk and you will wince at its staggering insensitivity. “Starwash” – judging a building by the fame of the architect rather than the quality of the design – and “parkwash” – the provision of private space to which members of the public are sometimes admitted under heavy restrictions – were used to successfully dazzle a planning inspector.
But the Walkie Talkie succeeds in capturing the City’s zeitgeist excellently. Flashy, greedy and attention-grabbing, it is the Flaming Ferrari of buildings, showing that the City is truly a club no more.
Tom Sleigh is common councilman for Bishopsgate Ward, City of London, says No
Good buildings have character and arouse strong feelings. As it happens, I enjoy the Walkie Talkie’s gentle curves – London’s architecture can be voluptuous and sexy. Some call it greedy for growing outwards as it rises. Yet the upper levels are the true size of the plot, with the lower floors squeezed to create more open space at ground level. So it generously gives back.
A planning condition requires the roof to be open for free to the public, creating a new park with a superb view. It’s a real building being used by real companies, unlike so many London properties which are safety deposit boxes for foreign investors.
It makes a strong contribution to London’s burgeoning insurance district, and meets a crucial need for more office space in a 90 per cent occupied City. Buildings with character earn nicknames from the public and take time to win people over. The fact we are debating this also says something, because the worst buildings are instantly forgotten.