On my way to a meeting this week, I came across this interesting bit of structural engineering. It’s the facade of the old Middlesex Hospital on Mortimer Street in the heart of ‘Fitzrovia’, an area of London north of Oxford Street long associated with artists and writers.
The vacant hospital, a fine example of Victorian municipal architecture, was controversially demolished in the spring of 2008 to make way for Fitzroy Place, a mixed-use luxury development. The west-facing facade was retained completely, presumably to help the development retain its links with history and place.
Construction began in June 2012 and is expected to be complete by 2014 but by the look of the lift shafts, it is clear that the Fitzroy Place will dwarf the surrounding streets – facade or no facade. And the development, a mix of apartments, shops, restaurants, offices and its very own members’ club, seems dominated by the usual mix of steel and glass combined with bricks and mortar of the mock-Georgian terrace.
Fitzroy Place continues to court controversy, with Westminster Council criticised for not insisting that developer ‘Exemplar’ provide the 25% quota of affordable housing usually required under planning law. The same council opposes an application for Fitzrovia to be designated a cross-borough ‘Neighbourhood Area’ under the Localism Act. Such areas aim to give locals more power over planning and building matters.
London’s history has always been dominated by change – demographically and architecturally – and the Victorians were as guilty as any for building over the past, but there is something quite depressing about Fitzroy Place. Depressing that a development largely serving the rich has replaced a building that served the local community for over 250 years; depressing that the developers have adopted such a pedestrian approach to design and materials; and depressing that Fitzroy Place, with its strapline – “Where Creativity Lives” – will more than likely destroy the area’s creativity that it aspires to, than add to it.