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To list or not to list?

Hugh Pearman

As widely predicted, Richard Rogers’ Lloyd’s of London building was listed Grade 1 at the end of last year. It thus joins Norman Foster’s Willis Corroon Building in Ipswich in the exclusive club of post-war Grade Ones - others in London being Denys Lasdun’s 1960 Royal College of Physicians in Regent’s Park, and the 1951 Royal Festival Hall - much altered over the years.

Now people are asking what other postwar buildings should be listed. In today’s BD Stephen Hodder calls for a Grade One listing for another Foster building, his Sainsbury Centre at UEA outside Norwich. As it happens, I’ve never been that keen on the Sainsbury Centre - it’s always felt just slightly wrong to me, the bravura architecture and engineering somewhat overwhelming its various functions, and I find its Crescent Wing extension a bit horrid. Plus of course, the white exterior you see today is a replacement as Hodder points out - the original silver aluminium ribbed panels having corroded and been replaced years ago. Even so, I’d back Hodder here: it’s plainly a virtuoso building, has been massively influential, and there’s not that much early high-tech left.

Who would now want to de-list Seifert’s Centre Point, for all the controversies of its early life?  Or the BT Tower, despite the fact that since being listed its characteristic horn-shaped original transmitters have been removed? In the same issue of BD, traditionalist Francis Terry says “It is impossible to know which buildings are great from our own time…we do not have sufficient critical distance to judge them with any objectivity.”  It’s a good point, but Lloyd’s and the Sainsbury Centre, not to mention the BT Tower and Centre Point, are not of our time. One cannot imagine them being built in their respective ways today. 25 or 30 years, I submit, is enough to give us a fair idea of what is good or bad.