Monday, 24 December 2018

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU GOT TILL IT’S GONE [141]


It has only been a few months since my visit to the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre in London [link], but things have moved on a bit in that time. In fact, they have become terminal: in October 2018, Historic England announced they had rejected the application to list the centre as a protected structure, and the final approval to demolish the centre was given by the Greater London Authority on Monday 10th December.

So, that appears to be the end of that then. Historic England made it pretty clear: "although the shopping centre originally had architectural interest due to the quality of its design, this has been eroded by a series of incremental changes over the years so that it does not resemble its original appearance... the shopping centre was one of the first two, and is now the earliest surviving building of this type in England, but it has been greatly changed from its original layout and appearance".

I am not sure what to make of this – you could protect the building, and require renovations to be made to it. What happened to the oldest building of this type? Should it be assumed that certain types of buildings are transitory enough in their nature that they do not require preservation?

On Saturday 8th December, I went back to Elephant & Castle – I did not know the final decision on its future was due the following Monday. The place is still fine and, more importantly, the place was busy. For a centre due to close by the end of March, there was only one store, running a closing down sale. Like there was three months ago, one empty shop is being used to house displays explaining the redevelopment of the area and, like three months ago, it is only open a few afternoons per week, and never at the weekend. There are examples of where the building shows its wear: Tesco’s linoleum tiles have worn away in places, revealing the original floor underneath, and one escalator is cordoned off, with a sign saying it is awaiting repair – if it is planning to close by the end of March 2019, I don’t imagine that will happen. However, the large escalator that leads to the bingo hall and bowling alley really will only start up once they have opened for the day.

I am still minded to believe the redevelopers and the council have talked themselves into demolishing the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, but I look at the new high-rise buildings around it, and further down into the City of London – steel, sheet glass, big-name architects – and I realised this really is a case of, if it ain’t broke, break it: the Elephant & Castle doesn’t fit the area anymore, because they changed the area. Once the replacement towers are finished, what will still tell me I am in Elephant & Castle? Most likely, just the name about the entrance to the Underground.

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