We can knock Vinoly's London eco-chimney, but UK developers and architects are being equally gaudy and ungracious in Dubai
Not even a week after Rafael Vinoly unveiled his 300m eco-chimney to sit beside a restored power station in west London, along comes an even more ridiculous scheme: a rotating tower block in - you've guessed it - Dubai.
Architect David Fisher cheerfully admits he has never designed a skyscraper before, but his computer says this building can be constructed in an Italian factory, oven-ready for the end of 2010. So that's all right then. The developers reportedly want to build one in London. Might I suggest a site in Battersea?
Now, most people in the industry know that the culture of greed and excess in the United Arab Emirates has led to some pretty bizarre schemes, including a building shaped like an iPod, an archipelago of islands designed to resemble a map of the world, and a kangaroo-shaped bouncing skyscraper designed for the Australian Embassy which actually moves around the desert from oasis to oasis, soaking up natural resources wherever it lands. Okay, so I made that last one up, but admit it - you believed me for a minute.
The great shame of it is that British architects and engineers, for generations the humble designers of buildings of dignity and grace, are the ones perpetrating these eyesores on the oil-rich desert empires of the Middle East. Although the architect himself is reportedly of Italian stock, the company is British-based. (Its name? The “Rotating Tower Dubai Development Co”. No prizes for guessing what it is they do, then.)
Benoy, one of our largest architects, is designing a Ferrari-shaped theme park in Abu Dhabi, and if you haven't seen UK architect Sybarite's butterfly-shaped hotel design, then follow the link below and suggest a nickname for it. The hundredth entry will win a free night there, once it has been built.
With the credit crunch a-biting, UK architects are increasingly looking to Asia and the Middle East to shore up dwindling workloads in the mother country, with the result that British expertise is being used to throw up ever more outlandish schemes with no consideration for context or place-making.
But when a Uruguayan-born architect like Vinoly comes to our capital city and proposes doing the same thing, we fall about laughing. I am no great fan of Vinoly's scheme, but perhaps we should put this in perspective. George Ferguson, a former president of the RIBA, has written a very funny comment piece for Building's sister magazine BD on the scheme, but I don't see anyone coming out of the woodwork and criticising British involvement in the similarly misconceived schemes that are being drawn up in the Middle East and China.
This is cultural imperialism, of a sort - it is all very well designing these gaudy blemishes if they garnish their landscape, but when someone designs a futuristic or otherwise unusual scheme in London, we call in the heritage brigade and pull the plug.
Granted, it would be a worse kind of cultural imperialism if we advised the authorities in Dubai and elsewhere to improve their planning regimes, but while our industry continues to play a role in building giant, incredible towers in the Middle East, we ought to be careful about slagging them off when they appear in our own backyards.