Doesn't Matter If This Building's Ugly As Sin - It Shouldn't Be Demolished

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 20 months ago
Doesn't Matter If This Building's Ugly As Sin - It Shouldn't Be Demolished
It doesn't matter if you find Bastion House ugly as sin or strangely alluring — surely we don't need to demolish it? Image: Londonist.

"I can't believe they're going to tear it down."

The words of Stefi Orazi, modernism evangelist and author of Golden Lane Estate: An Urban Village.

Except she isn't talking about the much-loved Grade II* listed Golden Lane — but the nearby Bastion House, a girthy, doom-laden office block built between 1972-77 as part of the Barbican development. Teetering comically on stilts over the current Museum of London, it looks like the world's biggest broken flight departures board, or the Evil Headquarters of an Evil Corporation where Evil People think up Evil Ideas.

Now, Bastion House faces the wrath of the wrecking ball, with plans to replace the offices with a, er, 'office-led development'. Albeit one boasting an 'interconnected network of public spaces' and a  'significant level of urban greening'.

a utopian mock up with people walking across grassy hills planted with tree
A mock up of the development planned for the London Wall West, site where the Museum of London and Bastion House currently stand. Image: City of London Corporation

Except it seems people don't want the grassy utopia set out for London Wall West — they want Bastion House, dammit.

'"The old 'modernism is ugly trope'" sighs Orazi, and she's not alone in voicing this opinion. In fact the tweet in which she bemoans Bastion House's probable fate prompted an outpouring of emotion: "What?! For why?" "I used to work there! Most amazing views and incredible sunsets from the 9th floor" "This is one of my favourite bits of London. Such a shame 😔"

All well and good, you might think, but what about the people who actually live around here and have to look at this lumbering cackbastard day in, day out? Turns out they're overwhelmingly in favour of keeping Bastion House, too.

Image: Barbican Association

The Barbican Association — the recognised Tenants Association for the Barbican — has been vocal about saving the Powell and Moya-designed office block from annihilation; on their website, in newsletters and during face-to-face meetings, they rally for its salvation. "It may be too late," says the Barbican Association "but we should question the desirability of demolishing Bastion House and the Museum of London and replacing them..."

An online Barbican Association poll revealed that a staggering 88% of tenants saying they'd rather see Bastion House (and the Museum of London) repurposed, rather than snuffed out altogether.

The City of London Corporation, though, seems pretty set on seeing off the doomy behemoth. A consultation pack decries Bastion House as 'very much at the end of its life' and 'not fit for purpose'. The building's energy performance is poor, and it'd be easier to just knock the thing down and start over, says the report.

bastion house looms in front of one of the Barbican towers
Bastion House is part of the pioneering Barbican estate. Image: Londonist

Hang on though. Knocking down a building then whacking up a new one doesn't sound hugely energy efficient either. The Barbican Association agrees: "We should refurbish old buildings rather than scrap them," it says, "because of the pollution that would be involved in constructing a replacement building, otherwise known as embodied carbon."

The Barbican itself might have once faced demolition if the wrong voices had been heeded. Its critics have complained the estate is "too big, too concrete and horrible to live in". But just imagine the outcry if anyone tried to bulldoze the Barbican now. Bastion House is part of that development, and should be regarded in the same ilk. Historic England even recommended the London Wall West site be included in the Barbican and Golden Lane Conservation Area. (It wasn't, of course, and so here we are.)

The gaping hole where Elephant and Castle Shopping centre was. Image: Londonist.

That there was once a rash of buildings just like Bastion House lined up along London Wall adds heft to the argument that this unlikely gem should be saved. Beauty's in the eye of the beholder, but whether you swoon over Bastion House or not, it's part of the City of London's story — another layer of that fascinating palimpsest, in which 1960s pedways weave over Roman walls, past medieval churches and through 1980s brutalism.

We recently lost Elephant Castle Shopping Centre, and the raw, muddy hole that now sits there in its place denotes another chapter of London that now only exists in photos. Let's not do the same to the stunning modernist masterpiece/ugly-as-sin block that is Bastion House.

The London Wall West consultation is still open.

Last Updated 27 June 2022

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