30 Cannon Street
30 Cannon Street has been revealed after quite a while under wraps, being restored, refurbished, cleaned up, and no doubt prepared for a major sales push.
It was built in 1977 for French bank Credit Lyonnais using pioneering materials and techniques, from the glass fibre reinforced cement to the outward-leaning, bronze-tinted windows. The curves of the windows and the way it snakes around the triangular road junction combine with the gentle outward lean of the walls to create a ship-like feeling, albeit a very sleek, modernist ship.
It is a beautiful piece of architecture, cleverly conceived and executed. There is little overt angularity, yet the lines still feel clean and precise. There is an air of brutalism about the place, yet much smarter, or maybe just a little more continental. The building is surrounded by a lot of dispiriting office blocks that just accentuate the sophistication of 30 Cannon Street, and make it still feel fresh and vital 40-odd years on.
However, as I’m sure my writing above gives away, I’m no architectural expert. I can make a stab at why a building works, but I’m soon scrabbling around for the right terms or trying desperately not to just repeat what I’ve Googled.
It is tricky to write about a subject matter when you’re not too steady on the language to use. It is even more tricky when you do have some sort of handle on the language, but don’t want to descend into cliché. I think these issues may lie at the heart of any anxieties I have over writing – not using the right words, or using the right words badly. It is a pretty fundamental anxiety, and probably a pretty dumb one too.
Anyway, back to the building.
I feel a little queasy fawning over some office block, no matter how good it looks. A building created purely for keeping the money rolling in to a bank. A building now eager to appeal to possible tenants who are eager to find somewhere with the prerequisite look and prestige. Are you meant to like buildings that might be problematic in some way? Can I enjoy somewhere, even if I know that what goes on inside isn’t wonderful? Can you swoon over a prison? Coo over an abattoir?
It is a minefield, I tell you.
But I guess I can narrow it down to: 30 Cannon Street works because it looks cool. It manages to press all those buttons for a nostalgia-for-the-future-of-the-past, a relic from a different time, a version of a future that didn’t quite happen. It looks different without being difficult. There is an ease and an elegance about it.
I squint out all the surrounding nonsense and I’m in some Modernist Bright New Dawn.
Or, as I say, it just looks cool. Which is probably as far as my architectural criticism reaches right now.