Dickens and London


Disney takes control?

People either loathe or love Minster Court, GMW Partnership’s 1991 postmodern-gothic office complex in Mincing Lane, shown above.  Most critics loathe it.  The Independent described it as ‘one of the great walking nightmares of postmodern architecture, an aftershock that rose like Dracula’s castle from the ashes of the recession.’  According to the Guardian it looks ‘as close to Batman as the Middle Ages’ and Simon Bradley sees it as a ‘vast and bewildering American influenced flagrantly populist pile of peaks and gables’.  The film 101 Dalmatians gave it the backhanded complement of use as the headquarters of Cruella De Ville.  The City Guides architectural expert, Paul Taylor, feels that it is a rather dishonest building, as its fantastical complexity is achieved by appearing to stick on features that serve no practical and little symbolic purpose.  

GMW Partnership’s own description of Minster Court is:  ‘a modern building complex characterised by an intricacy of detail more often associated with the historic buildings of the City’s narrow streets’.  This seems a little economical with the truth: what is the purpose of the bold pink colour, the strange square gold ornamentation and the multiplicity of sharply pointed towers and corners?  It falls to Simon Bradley to describe the building with precision:  ‘rosy polished granite cladding in a bewildering variety of fins and angles, like gothic done in stiff folded paper’.

But if critics loathe this Disney-gothic fantasia many of people love it, and Minster Court does add colour and variety to the City’s skyline and streetscape. It is grounded by Althea Wynne’s statues of three large horses in the central courtyard, illustrated below. Designed to embody the dynamism and power of late 20th century City buildings, they recall both the ‘horsepower’ that historically underpinned commerce and the classical horses on the facade of St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice.  The parallel is apt because, like London, Venice was a great City built on international trade.

Too many large Disney-style buildings like Minster Court could ruin the character of the historic City of London.  But if any architectural style has taken control of the square mile it is the late-modern glass box, not brightly coloured postmodern Disney.  Perhaps there is room for one Minster Court.

By Susan Gane
First published Cityguide, Summer 2008