Does empty space always cry out to be filled? Not when what you're filling it with looks like Berkeley Homes' Potters Fields project, it doesn't
My first contribution to this magazine, nine years ago, was to Wonders & blunders (respectively, Erich Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower in Potsdam and Albert Speer's Zeppelin stadium in Nuremberg: I was in Germany at the time). The second choice seems, in retrospect, timid and unlikely to have offended anybody save that war criminal's groupies. How much more pertinent it would have been to follow the cue of those devil-may-care contributors who put the boot into something fashionable and bien pensant – to have stirred it. The delight of this half-page is that the construction industry's big cheeses (and a few civvies) are obliged to castigate a product of their industry in a magazine that will be read by its begetters. This is valuable, but it's also rash – for the magazine, in its capacity as messenger, is biting the hand that feeds it. It is allowing itself a licence that a publication with a more general readership would take for granted.

Were it to opine, for instance, that:

  • a decade-long moratorium on construction should be called
  • self-build is the only way forward
  • the Treasury overrule the deputy prime minister's grand projet of a separate house for every man, woman, child and pet in the country
  • global warming has obviated the need for shelter
  • hot-desking should be followed by hot-bedding

I think we'd be looking at a magazine with a death wish. Building's very foundation is the perennial necessity of building.

We are inured to the political saw that "to do nothing is not an option". This is self-regarding nonsense, the boast of the vacuously active, of the incontinently meddlesome (the very people who comprise the political caste). Of course, doing nothing – what we quietists call SFA – is an option. Kindredly, we should learn to acknowledge that, in certain circumstances, the question is not what should we build on a particular site, and to what end. Sometimes we have to accept that the question is: should we build at all? Not building is an option.

Late in the spring I wrote a piece in The Times about the comparative merits of London Bridge Tower and a proposed Berkeley Homes development less than half a mile west. I live midway between the two. I am all for the former. I am implacably opposed to the latter, even though there's nothing wrong with the design – or, rather, there would be nothing wrong with the design were it intended for Docklands or the Greenwich Peninsular. But eight 200 ft conical towers on the Potters Field site at the southern end of Tower Bridge?

‘To do nothing is not an option’ is the boast of the vacuously active, the incontinently meddlesome

The reaction the piece provoked was revealing.

The disputatious-though-courteous letters were surprisingly bereft of the old knee-jerk opposition to the modern or the extreme – and Renzo Piano's London Bridge scheme is extreme, if only in height: the intelligent public seems sanguine about architectural style. What does concern it are context, density, the broadly urbanistic ramifications of megaprojects. I was subsequently contacted by a nascent local action group. Its members are united only by their grave misgivings about the Potters Field project. It is easy to write off grassroots opposition as the special pleading of kitchen table politicians – and I have no doubt that at the inevitable appeal Berkeley Homes will retain a squadron of barristers who specialise in such denigration.

My antipathy to the proposal is founded in aesthetic distaste. Tower Bridge may not be great architecture but it is, whether we like it or not, London's supreme icon. It is our Eiffel Tower. And the notion that a French volume builder, even one flying the banner of "regeneration", would have the cheek to apply to build on the Champs de Mars is laughable.

London is, of course, a series of piecemeal gestures in comparison with Paris. So such grounds for opposition are probably footling beside the raft of pragmatic and social reasons why this is A Bad Idea: it will deprive a crowded area of a rare open space, it lacks the roads to support it, it will be a de facto continuation of the boorish More London development and it will occasion only tokenistic planning gain …