One Poultry, the sand-coloured monolith standing on the junction opposite the Bank of England, has always been a building that has divided opinion.
Prince Charles was relatively generous in likening it to a 1930s transistor radio. Others have been far less kind, and it regularly features in lists of London’s ugliest buildings.
It’s been contentious from day one, since it replaced the much-loved Mappin & Webb building that had stood on that junction for more than a century, and was only approved after a long planning battle that went to appeal.
So long and controversial was the process, that the main architect, James Stirling, died five years before the building opened and two years before construction even began. So it’s pretty surprising to learn that the government is currently deciding on an application to make One Poultry a listed building.
Putting aside its aesthetic merits, it was built just 17 years ago. Buildings aren’t usually considered for listing unless they’re at least 30 years old. If you step inside the offices at One Poultry, you will find, in places, poorly lit and gloomy office accommodation.
The entrance area is too small, ill-befitting the sort of impressive arrival spaces demanded by modern businesses. The owner of the building is presently trying to remedy these problems with some small and sympathetic changes to the building, which has prompted the listing application.
The retail units are even more problematic, failing to draw-in shoppers, despite their outstanding central location.
As the Prime Minister often reminds us, we are in a “global race” – and nowhere more so than in the City of London. Having been a councilman in the City for 29 years, I know better than some how we need to be constantly improving and competing with our rivals.
We need to offer world class office accommodation that meets the needs of its occupiers. Failing to do so will put us at a significant disadvantage to our competitors. We simply cannot preserve the City of London in aspic, and if we start listing flawed 1990s offices, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.
Of course the architectural community has the right to have its say. But when the culture minister Tracey Crouch takes this decision, she has to look at all the issues in the round.
If the building is listed, there is every chance that the occupiers will leave and, we will be left with the absurdity of a grand, but empty, building sitting in one of the most prominent locations in London.
The government can – and must – stop this happening.