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Critique of Jean Nouvel’s One New Change (for Architecture Today)

Jean Nouvel - One New Change. Photo © Paul Riddle

First published in issue AT213 of Architecture Today, November 2010
© Ian Ritchie 2009
Photo © Paul Riddle

Jean Nouvel’s One New Change breathes life back into a vital part of the City of London, says Ian Ritchie

The Client, the Competition and the Prince

Buildings originate with clients who identify an opportunity, a need and an ambition. Architects should recognise the qualities of the client they are about to work for.

Land Securities acquired the site of One New Change in 1994. Its occupant, a 1960 Portland stone and red brick building, had been strongly criticised for being conceptually out-of-date, harking back to pre-war styles of stripped classicism and neo-Georgian and an indictment of the City of London and commercial developers’ inability to accept the new. Sounds familiar.

The nearby Paternoster Square went that way, too. Why not One New Change? Well, Prince Charles did write to Land Securities in 2005 to ask it to replace Jean Nouvel with one of his non-modernist favourites. The serial interventionist was concerned to retain St Pauls’ ‘inspirational’ presence on the London skyline. Land Securities had selected Nouvel’s design concept of a ‘stealth bomber’ in its invited competition (against Viñoly, Moneo and HOK). Nouvel unveiled an Airfix model of a stealth bomber as part of his presentation to the City of London Corporation’s Planning & Transportation Committee. Was it a witty reference to the conservationists’ defensive architectural radar that appealed, as much as its angular shape? Land Securities, a committed client bolstered by support from other quarters, politely rejected the Prince’s approaches.