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.

Photo: Alamy
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Chain of command: how the office lanyard took over corporate culture

“I realised that I had to sort myself out with a new lanyard or I was going to struggle with my tribe.”

Compulsory lanyards arrived at BBC Broadcasting House in January 1991. Until then, a cursory flash of your staff card to the uniformed commissionaire would do. The Gulf War changed all that.

News trainees like me were pulled back from our regional radio attachments across the nation to serve the so-called Scud FM. In 12-hour shifts, we recorded CNN output on giant reel-to-reel tape machines, cutting packages to feed the rolling news. There were so many new faces, and the bead-chain lanyards gave a semblance of organisation.

Barely out of university, some of us were thinking: emergency civic responsibility. We had only seen lanyards worn in those 1970s and 1980s panic films such as WarGames. We were young outsiders getting access to the establishment.

Two 1990s television shows gave us our figureheads: Agent Dana Scully in The X-Files, flashing her FBI ID at every opportunity, and later Allison Janney’s C J Cregg in The West Wing, who embodied the idea of the female who had broken through, thoroughly qualified to run the operation. The lanyard was their symbol of arrival and as much of a challenge to the old order as their brightly coloured pantsuits were.

In a recent reassessment of the liberal love affair with The West Wing, Current Affairs magazine mocked fans who “think a lanyard is a talisman that grants wishes and wards off evil”. But it’s a good summary of how it felt then.

The novelist Bill Beverly, who grew up in the US Midwest, confirms my suspicion that the lanyard’s 1990s appeal lay in its historic gendered status: “They were for gym teachers and coaches. A lanyard for one’s whistle, for one’s stopwatch, for other elements of communication and control.”

Unlike military dog tags, which remained hidden, the lanyard was about publicly declaring that you belonged. Corporations, introducing them long before electronic scanner-gate entry became the norm, benefited from their identity as a symbol of cool access. Think of the Wayne’s World films, in which the backstage VIP lanyard is a celebratory badge of entry.

Over the years, lanyards have come to reveal so much about status. One charity worker, who asked to remain anonymous, has noticed who does and doesn’t wear them outside NHS hospitals: “I used to get the Tube into London Bridge and you’d see all the young doctors from Guy’s wearing their lanyards, quite proud. You never saw nurses or porters wearing theirs.”

At a big charity with compulsory lanyards for security cards, she saw tribal divisions: “The fundraising and facilities people all wore the work lanyard they gave you. But in public affairs and marketing and design, we all wore our own lanyards and turned our photo ID around. The electronic thing still worked, but no one could see your face. I realised within weeks that I had to sort myself out with a new lanyard or I was going to struggle with my tribe.”

When she moved to a small women’s charity, a more conventional rebellion emerged over corporate conformity: “I noticed they still needed an electronic card to get into the building. I was used to wearing a lanyard with one on, so I took a handful of nice ones in with me and gave them each one, and every one of the women just looked at me and went, ‘We’re not wearing that.’ It was the absolute opposite of command and control.”

At the Labour party conference last September, she saw how lanyards affected the mood. She observes that, as well as the standard union-sponsored lanyard, many members of Momentum were wearing a special lanyard with the Palestinian flag colours. “They really stuck out because they were like a party within a party,” she recalls. “Inside, they moved in packs. It was like the savannah – much more divided, even among the MPs.”

Journalists in the US have a tradition of bonding through novelty press cards on lanyards. One enterprising hack made them during the 1996 O J Simpson civil trial, with mugshots for each significant calendar date: Hallowe’en horror, Christmas, a Thanksgiving one featuring Simpson in a pilgrim hat with a turkey and the slogan “I’ll carve”.

Such small-scale rebellions over how we wear our lanyards are a distraction. Wearing our data around our necks, even displaying it boastfully, seems, in hindsight, a preparation for the normalisation of giving out our personal data online to corporations that can predict where we’ll go and how we’ll consume. If you have nothing to hide, what does it matter?

Twenty-six years on from my first encounter with it, in the new open-plan BBC Broadcasting House, lanyard-based security is much tighter for many reasons (including a break-in by a bunch of teens who found an unmanned door to the newsroom and wandered around posting rather giggly videos online).

There are still gestures of defiance. One colleague used to wear 20 or more lanyards collected from dozens of BBC buildings, twisted into a kind of giant wreath, like a Grand Prix winner.

My defeat lies in the way that I wear a second special labelled lanyard around my neck for the one day in the year that I might need access to a tiny, cordoned-off BBC area outside the Royal Albert Hall to record a line of voice track in an outside broadcast van.

Lanyards may have given us access but in accepting the myth of entry to august institutions, we are tagged and controlled for ever. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder