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Did the right one get the go-ahead?

Exhibition re-examines the 'giant glass stump' that was thwarted in one of the capital’s ugliest planning battles

21 March, 2017 — By The Xtra Diary

Mies van der Rohe’s unrealised Mansion House Square

LONDON has become a bit of a playground for creators of zany skyscrapers.

The skyline rising above the river has shards, walkie talkies and cheese graters, each building slightly more preposterous than the last.

It makes you wonder if the modern day relief along the Thames ever draws a wry smile from Lord Peter Palumbo, who was thwarted in building what might be described as a more conservatively-designed tower block in one of the capital’s ugliest planning battles.

Here was the “giant glass stump”, as that self-appointed architecture critic of the 1980s Prince Charles called the “Mansion House Square” project.

James Stirling Michael Wilford & Associates’ Number One Poultry

As the Royal Institute of British Architects opened a stylish new exhibition revisiting the moment London missed the chance to see the celebrated Modernist architect Mies van der Rohe’s work built, Lord Palumbo, who had commissioned the project, was by all accounts visibly moved at a private view when he was confronted with a treasure trove of documents, designs and models.

His lasting emotion is surely understandable: van der Rohe died in 1969, a few weeks after completing the design for the site in Victoria Street, close to the Bank station junction, not knowing then whether this would be his last great work or whether it would end up on a government spike.

Supporters and objectors were still arguing about it during a public planning inquiry in 1984.

Palumbo later recruited James Stirling, after whom the leading architecture prize is named, to design an alternative.

The beauty of the Circling The Square exhibition at RIBA’s headquarters in Portland Place is how it lines up van der Rohe’s tower and Stirling’s eight-storey successor together, and asks visitors to decide for themselves whether the planning system got it right in hindsight.

Mies Van Der Rohe + James Stirling: Circling The Square. Until June 25 at the Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, W1B 1AD More information: www.architecture.com Twitter: @Riba

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