"London could undoubtedly be improved by the removal of a few key buildings which are ugly themselves and blight otherwise pleasing views."
So opined the Illustrated London News on 1 February 1987. The now defunct paper asked readers and 'distinguished people' to nominate the most terrible eyesores. Here are some of the top responses.
Daily Mirror Building (1957-60) — This menacing slab occupied the corner of Holborn Circus where today you'll find the glassy Sainsbury's offices. Sir Ralph Verney reckoned it was a 'mean and hideous monster on an important site'. It was demolished in the 1990s.
New Zealand House (1957-63) — The West End tower block was viewed with particular venom by architect James Sterling, who dubbed it 'alien and ugly'. Spike Milligan thought that it 'invited destruction'.
The Barbican (1958-62) — Those who wanted to get rid of it include Sir John Harvey-Jones and artist Eduardo Paolozzi (he of the Tottenham Court Road murals), who described it as 'inaccessible, inhuman, but hopefully not indestructible'.
Hilton Hotel, Park Lane (1961-63) — Five responders put the lofty hotel top of their wrecking ball list. Among them was William Rees-Mogg, father of Jacob.
The Shell Centre (1962) — Received eight nominations, including one from Ken Livingstone. He criticised how it looks completely out of keeping with everything else along that stretch. Presumably, he's now heartened that the tower is getting some similar company. We also learn from the article that the Shell Centre was designed to have tea pumped throughout, but the leaves kept clogging the pipes. We'd love to know if this is true.
Juxon House (1963-64) — Perhaps the least famous building in the shortlist, Juxon House was an unremarkable office block on the corner of Paternoster Square. It punched below its weight thanks to its proximity to St Paul's. Lord Kennet was among those who wanted it felled. The block, along with others of its ilk, were indeed swept away in the early 21st century, when Paternoster Square was redeveloped.
Department of Environment Buildings (1963-71) — This trio of tower blocks on Marsham Street has now been demolished and replaced by the Home Office. Norman Foster disliked the blocks as (obviously, to anyone who reads his Evening Standard columns) did Simon Jenkins.
Royal Lancaster Hotel (1967) — This concrete hulk behind Lancaster Gate tube still stands. Lord Esher nominated it for the detrimental effect on the romantic end of the Serpentine.
Hayward Gallery (1968) — Apollo editor Denys Sutton reckoned it was 'ugly on the outside and inconvenient for exhibitions within'.
Knightsbridge Barracks (1970) — This one came in for lots of criticism, getting the joint highest number of nominations along with the Shell Centre. Alan Bowness of the Tate called it 'an obtrusion on Hyde Park', while the Marquess of Anglesey branded it a 'feeble piece of architecture'.
NatWest Tower (now Tower 42) (1971-80) — London's tallest building at the time was a symptom of 'the pursuit of tasteless self-advertisement' according to Lord Bullock. He also feared it would encourage further such buildings. And it has. The tower is today barely noticeable among the cluster of taller buildings in the City.
National Theatre (1976) — Glenda Jackson nominated this one, describing it as 'ugly, untheatrical, and already cracking at the seams'. Incidentally, Sir Denys Lasdun, who designed the building, declined an invitation to put forward his own nomination. Instead, he pointed out how 'some of today's unpleasing buildings may well be cherished tomorrow.' Which brings us on to...
Lloyd's (1986) — Another popular choice for demolition at the time. The detractors were led by former Prime Minister James Callaghan, who pronounced it 'full of gimcracks, with an absurd facade. It will hold our generation in contempt in 25 years time'. Guess what? Exactly 25 years later, in 2011, the building was given Grade I-listed status.
Queen Elizabeth II Conference Hall (1986) — New at the time of the article, this humdrum conference centre isn't looking any better with age. Sir David Wilson believed it 'unworthy of a sensitive site'.
Beyond the shortlist, a few further nominations catch the eye. David Steel MP dislikes the Balfron Tower in Poplar. An 'M Gormley' thought Buckingham Palace should be bulldozed. Melvyn Bragg wanted rid of the Charing Cross rail bridge (it has since been beautified with the Millennium footbridges). Andrew Lloyd-Webber would Close Every Door on the Euston Tower. Comedian Frank Muir went all contrarian and called for the demolition of the 18th century Mansion House. The V&A's Roy Strong couldn't 'stand the sight' of the Oxo Tower for some reason. The Regent's Park Mosque (now the London Central Mosque) is somehow seen as a 'monument to racism' by curmudgeonly Malcolm Muggeridge. Finally, a Professor WE Hoskins wanted to demolish the Telecom Tower (now the BT Tower) — 'preferably with Mary Whitehouse inside'. You could get away with saying those kinds of things in 1987.
Article discovered in the British Newspaper Archives. Top image (c) Illustrated London News Group courtesy of the BNA. All other images by the author.