Central St. Giles has been one of the more recent developments in London that is on my checklist to visit. I’ve always been a fan of Renzo Piano‘s work; the crafting of buildings to the human scale (although the Shard is an exception!), but never had a chance explore his urban interventions in the UK before (the only other development by his studio that I have been fortunate enough to visit include the Science Centre in Amsterdam and Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, which I thought has come together really well over the years..but that’s for another post!).
Off the train with ya!
Getting off the Tottenham Court Road tube, you’re thrown straight into the bustle of New Oxford Street. The Centre Point building looms overhead like one of the two statues from Lord of the Rings (looks more like Anarion than Isildor from street level!). Walking eastwards along New Oxford Street, St. Giles in the Fields church catches the corner of your eye as you peek through the overhang created by the horizontal element of Centre Point (attaching itself to Anarion, almost like its cape draped along the ground!).
Enticed by the church
The lure of St. Giles in the Fields eventually reveals Central St. Giles on your left, looming (although this time not as high as Centre Point!) and dwarfing its surroundings (St. Giles in the Fields included).
Colour me Bad!
The first impression you get is how striking the area has become. On a sunny day (it was a sunny Sunday), the vibrant panels (orang, yellow, green..) provides a feast for those tiny sensors in your eyes! The panels remind you of lego base plates, turned 90 degrees, painted with base colours and made to levitate around the perimeter of the development. The adjacent buildings are washed over with hues of red, yellow and green. The development in a sense has the ability to change the mood of the area throughout the day, either by standing out and enlivening the area on a dull day, or by sharing the joy of a sunny day though tonaly changing its surroundings.
The panels form the key to reducing the impact and scale of the development. Together with cutting the corners back and the use of glass louvre infill, the panels are used as an ingenious way to reduce the impression of mass of the development blocks. Treatment of the corners also allow views out from within (especially useful on the upper floors!).
Walking through into the courtyard within the development, the joyful experience and mood changes to one of sombre and despair. The lifeless interior is compounded further by grey and muted panels on all sides. The cold atmosphere and lack of activity is in stark contrast to the vibrant nature along St. Giles High Street / High Holborn (which may be partly due to it being a Sunday). Minimal foot traffic though the courtyard may be due to there being only high-end food outlets located on the ground floor.
Central St. Giles is a development made up of a composition of planes rather than a collection of volumetric solids. These planes are aligned to connect to the main routes around its perimeter (St. Giles High Street / High Holborn and Bucknall Street which is more of a back street). However, the new connections are not on the natural desire line along St. Giles High Street / High Holborn. Public artwork are located at these connections, more as public landmarks to entice (just as St. Giles in the Fields does) the wanderer towards it. Unlike the church however, which thrusts itself from the earth (as close to a natural a landmark as you can get), there is much disappointment and deceit as the intriguing artwork can be regarded as a ploy to trap the wanderer within a grey and lifeless space. This begs the question (in this instance) of the role of public art as urban land mark(ings).