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