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.

LORRAINE MALLINDER
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A dictator in the family: why Ebrima Jammeh wants retribution in Gambia

“I want to see Yahya Jammeh jailed and prosecuted in this country. Justice will finally come.”

On 21 January Yahya Jammeh left Gambia. Within minutes of the erstwhile dictator’s departure on a private jet, relieved crowds began to gather at Westfield Junction, a popular meeting point in Serrekunda, the largest town in the country.

For 22 years, Jammeh had cultivated a sorcerer-like persona, claiming he could cure HIV with herbs, ordering a nationwide witch hunt and magicking away countless dissenters to fates unknown.

After losing elections in December, he brought the country to the brink of war, staring down the West African troops waiting at the Senegalese border to remove him. Unable to conjure a way out, he eventually agreed to be exiled to Equatorial Guinea.

Leaning against a car at Westfield, Ebrima Jammeh (pictured above) watched the celebrations with a bitter-sweet expression. Shouting over blaring car horns, he said that he wanted justice for his father, murdered by the regime in 2005. His father, it turned out, was Haruna Jammeh, a first cousin of Yahya. The story of how Haruna and his sister, Masie Jammeh, were “disappeared” by security forces is well known here – a striking example of the former ruler’s ruthlessness.

Days after Yahya Jammeh’s departure, I met Haruna’s widow, Fatimah, with Ebrima and his sister Isatou. They recalled the early Nineties, when “Cousin Yahya” would drop by for green tea in his army officer’s uniform and brag about becoming the next leader of Gambia. “He was very arrogant,” Fatimah said.

Haruna and Yahya grew up on the family farm in Kanilai, on Gambia’s southern border with Senegal. They would play together in the fields. Haruna, six years older, would walk hand in hand with Yahya to school. They were more than cousins, Ebrima said. People called them “cousin-brothers”.

Once they were adults, Haruna remained protective of his cousin. He was working as a restaurant manager, and was a rising star in the Novotel group. Often, he helped out the then-impecunious Yahya with money or food. Few expected the hothead lieutenant to become the next president.

But in 1994 Yahya seized power in a coup. “I heard his voice on the radio and I was surprised,” Fatimah told me. “I phoned my mum and said: ‘Look, he did it.’” By 2000 Yahya had coaxed Haruna into ditching his hotel job and returning to manage the farm. The president had big plans for the farm, which grew into a huge enterprise that controlled many of the nation’s bakeries and butchers – thriving allegedly through land-grabs and subsidies.

Fatimah and the children stayed behind in Serrekunda, but would often visit. Ebrima had happy memories of meals with the extended family. Yahya was by now a distant figure, surrounded by bodyguards on the rare occasions when he visited. Ebrima remembered his uncle telling him to “work hard at school”.

In 2004, Haruna accused some soldiers of stealing fuel and food, and started to speak out against the regime’s frequent sackings and arrests. When he was removed from the farm, Fatimah begged him to come home. But he refused. “He was a strong character, a man of his word, a man of truth. He didn’t take nonsense from anyone,” Ebrima said. Haruna did not expect his younger “cousin-brother” would harm him.

In 2005 Ebrima, by then 21, spoke to his father for the last time after he was arrested in the middle of the night. “Dad said: ‘I don’t know if I’m coming back,’” he told me. “I was scared. I was devastated. I didn’t think I was going to see him again. I knew the kind of person Yahya was and the kind of rages he had.”

Shortly afterwards, Haruna’s sister Masie also disappeared. “My aunt was bold enough to approach the president, but she went missing, too,” Isatou said. “We stopped going to the village. We decided to be quiet because we were so scared they would come after us.”

In the years that followed, Fatimah and the children kept a low profile in the backstreets of Serrekunda. Questions about their surname were common but they denied all links to the president. For a long time, they had no idea whether Haruna and Masie were alive.

In 2014 Ebrima learned the truth from an interview on a Senegalese radio station with Bai Lowe, a former driver with the “Jungulers” (an elite presidential hit squad). Lowe said he had witnessed the strangling of Haruna and Masie Jammeh in July 2005. Their deaths were recorded in a 2015 Human Rights Watch report.

The interview was conducted by Fatu Camara, a former press secretary to Yahya Jammeh, who fled to the US in 2013 after being charged with “tarnishing the image of the president”. She said Masie had threatened to see a marabout, a spiritual leader with reputed supernatural powers, if Yahya did not reveal Haruna’s whereabouts. Having already set the Jungulers on Haruna, Yahya then targeted Masie, too.

On 26 January Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, returned from exile in Senegal. He leads an unwieldy, eight-party coalition with differing views on how Jammeh should be held to account. Barrow, who claims to have inherited a “virtually bankrupt” state, has promised to launch a truth and reconciliation process to investigate human rights abuses during the Jammeh regime. In interviews, he has chosen his words carefully, avoiding any mention of prosecution.

But, like many of those who have suffered, Ebrima wants retribution. “I want to see Yahya Jammeh jailed and prosecuted in this country. Justice will finally come.”

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times