Old Museum Of London And Bastion House To Be Demolished As Development Is Green Lighted

M@
By M@

Last Updated 21 May 2024

Old Museum Of London And Bastion House To Be Demolished As Development Is Green Lighted
Bastion House and Museum of London building with red crosses through them
Image: Matt Brown

It's farewell old friends, as a controversial development finally condemns this corner of the Barbican.

Michael Gove's thumb has spoken. The Communities Secretary had the final say on whether the old Museum of London building, and its accompanying tower block Bastion House, should be preserved. His thumb went down.

This admittedly tired old corner of the Barbican will now be swept away. In its place will rise a gleaming glass tower complex known as London Wall West which, to our eyes at least, does look a little more tasty than your typical office development.

A glass tower on the old Museum of London site
Image: City of London Corporation

It's proved a controversial project. The plans by Sheppard Robson and Diller Scofidio + Renfro met strong opposition on a number of grounds. Campaigners noted that a wholesale demolition and rebuild would release much more carbon than simply retrofitting the existing buildings. They also questioned the need for yet more office space, given the recent rise in home working. Previous plans for the site had called for a new concert venue.

A view inside the plaza of London Wall West
View inside the new plaza. Image: City of London

And then there are heritage arguments. The bulky Bastion House might not be to everyone's tastes, but it's now something of a rarity. Many similar towers from the 60s and 70s have been demolished. Some would argue that it's worth saving one or two for posterity. The destruction of the buildings would also radically alter the character of this part of the Barbican complex — an internationally renowned landmark of town planning. Slippery slope?

Bastion House in a puddle
Bastion House can actually look rather fetching if you squint your eyes and reflect it in a bird bath. Image: Matt Brown

Undeterred by such arguments, the City of London approved the plans a few weeks back. Michael Gove, who has powers to overrule local authorities on major planning applications, immediately called this one in for closer scrutiny. He has now agreed that redevelopment can go ahead.

Barbican Quarter Action (BQA), which has led the campaign against the plans, reckon the decision has "ramifications beyond the Square Mile". The group "will use all remaining avenues available to halt this shameless, rapacious scheme".

To be fair, the new plans are not without merit. The replacement buildings will come with an increase in public realm which, at least in the mock-ups, looks rather inviting (unless you're currently suffering from hay fever).

A sylvan scene of grass and flowers in the city of london
Image: City of London Corporation

Of course, reality never quite lives up to the artist's impression. But we only have to look a few hundred metres east for a successful precedent. The recent London Wall Place development was also controversial, but the scheme eventually provided new public spaces that are undeniably attractive and more popular than what was there before. The same could be true here.

Still, we will mourn those old buildings, which have been part of London's rich and varied tapestry for half a century.