The restoration of the West Front of St Paul's Cathedral is at last complete and the scaffolding has come down. This returns to the capital one of its most delightful prospects, the view down Ludgate Hill towards St Paul's, and means that visitors will at last be able to enjoy the full ceremonial effect of approaching Wren's masterpiece without being confronted with an eyeful of unlovely hoardings.
But Londonist has a few concerns. The restoration completes an important phase of a masterplan for the area surrounding St Paul's in time for the cathedral's 300th anniversary in 2008. Another important element in the plan is Paternoster Square, which has already been slated by architecture critics as a corny pastiche (which is like a Cornish pasty, only less flavoursome), and the restoration of Temple Bar, buffed and polished to within an inch of its life. With Temple Bar looking like the plaster-of-Paris was poured yesterday, how does the West Front look? Is it as incongruous as a gold tooth in an otherwise mouldy mouth, or have the heritage crack-squads gome easy on the sandblaster?
Much as most of London's grime - gum on the pavements, grafitti on the Tube - is undesirable, the accumulated soot of centuries that encrusts many of its older buildings is an important part of the city's feel and atmosphere. In cases where stonework is crumbling and in danger, then restore away, but if the intention is to make a centuries-old building look like brand spanking new, is that really worthwhile? You wouldn't re-point the sections of City wall that still stand, now would you? Perhaps it's time for a bit of listed dirt. Londonist can imagine the policy in action: ~"Well, this might only be a grade II-listed chapel, but it's got crud I-listed filth ..."