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

Jean Nouvel - One New Change. Photo © Paul Riddle

Photo © Paul Riddle

Nouvel has created intense but intimate twenty-first century galleries, albeit without the sky, that allude to the narrow streets wonderfully captured in Roger McGough’s poem The City of London Tour:

Along Leadladen Street / Into Snarlup Lane/
Through Crosspatch / Into Coronary Circus

Past Foulmouth Gardens / Into Fetid Lane /
Along Profligate / To the Tube at Charnel House

Up Dirtneedle Street / Into Destitute Square /
Down Pacemaker Passage / (Nearly There)

A quick one in the ‘Half Lung’ / (Leave your
gasmask at the door
) / Which concludes, ladies
and gents, / The City of London Tour

Wisely, office workers above aren’t made to encounter all this. Rather they enter by a more traditional outdoor landscaped pocket in Watling Street and then glide up two floors to a generous ‘common room’ and reception overlooking the butcher’s slice.

The office spaces are quite deep in some areas, particularly towards the ‘butcher’s slice’. They are air-conditioned and have a relatively poor daylight factor which will require the lights to be on all the time. A desk with a view of St Paul’s may promise much, but behind raking reflecting windows it may not turn out to be the most inspiring environment in which to work.

The City’s chief planner, Peter Rees, has said of One New Change, ‘This isn’t a shopping mall. This is the City’s high street reborn’. He is right because, as well as the three levels of inner galleries, three street edges are alive, with Bread Street their servant. It is smart and classless. What the Royal Exchange did for the bonused, One New Change will do nicely for the salaried. Directed at a mixed community of cafe gossipers, office workers, shoppers and tourists, this project serves the contempory city centre of the carless youth and elderly, while the family passes through as tourists.