The latest on books and the arts

RSS

One New Change: a review

Is London ready for Jean Nouvel's new City shopping centre?

One New Change: three seemingly simple words, the street address in fact, though one can almost feel the agonising and painstaking thought (and thousands of pounds) that must have gone into choosing the name from (and to) countless PR, marketing and branding types, underneath this thin veneer of nominal simplicity. Or maybe, in it's ready made corporate splendor, "One New Change" suited Land Secruties, the developers of the mixed use complex, just fine? It couldn't be any better really, with its tripartite, sculpted, production line, Cameroonian sleekness.

The City's new shopping mall by Jean Nouvel (his first permanent building in the UK) is a sleek, grey-brown burnished glass consumerist leviathan, full of sharp cantilevered edges and snide geometric tricks which mask its vastness. Unquestionably not in the same league as Nouvel's most celebrated creations - the Fondation Cartier and Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris - One New Change seems to bear a greater resemblance to Nouvel's temporary Serpentine pavilion, which opened this summer, with its similar minimalist slices of red metal juxtaposed against one another.

The basic plan of the building is centred on a hexagonal atrium, where the lift shaft is, and spans out on four sides, leading into open "streets" which go into the adjacent roads and squares. This is clearly an attempt to tie the building into the City's heritage, to present the mall as a sort of post-modern Leadenhall market, if you will (hopefully we will not).

Nouvel is more explicit about his desire to build within the architectural strictures of the City when commenting on what is undoubtedly the project's aesthetic coup de théâtre: the roof terrace, with its spectacular view of Wren's masterpiece of the English baroque, St Paul's. Rather than try and challenge the cathedral architecturally (an absurd idea, as any architect would know), Nouvel admits that he has purposefully made sure "the design is calm and deferential to St Paul's". It's a decision that's more than vindicated by the result, which is not just the finest view of St Paul's above street level, available gratis (for the moment at least), but one of the most thrilling panoramas of London's skyline to be seen anywhere. From the terrace, one can see the Barbican, Renzo Piano's unfinished Shard, City Hall, Southwark cathedral and, appropriately for a work that claims deference as one of its selling points, a good spattering of Wren and Hawksmoor's City churches.

When it comes to the interior, the only things of note, in amongst the polished marble and stainless steel railings and the touch screen guides to the building, is that the shops here are more of the Topshop and Office variety than the Dior or Louis Vuitton of Shepherd's Bush's Westfield. This is no doubt the result of well informed market research carried out at the behest of Land Securities, who have backed One New Change to the pretty tune of £500 million, and judging by the fact that they have already let almost every available retail space in the building they are probably right.

The press have, unsurprisingly, been rather mixed in their reaction to what the promotional website calls "London's newest shopping destination". The Evening Standard breathlessly called it "the most tangible sign yet that the economic recovery is underway", but Jonathan Glancey, the Guardian's architectural critic, accused Nouvel of "robbing the City of what passes for its soul". Glancey is almost certainly right, but either way I suggest you get up to the roof terrace and see what may be the best view of St Paul's in London whilst it's still free.