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A Straight Line Walk Across London
by Paul K Lyons
35 - Vauxhall Cross for Bondway, Brunswick, the Cold Store Tapes and Spooks Castle
Now, here at place called Vauxhall Cross, the urbanscape turns very messy. Traffic thunders by in every direction. The central area, bounded by a triangle of roads (Wandsworth Road, Bondway and Parry Street) is a construction site with strange-looking undulating metal rooves under construction. These are to be shelters for the Bondway Bus Station, part of a new transport interchange, to include Vauxhall underground and rail stations, being built by Transport for London. Norwest Holst Construction has posted signs apologising for any inconvenience. Here too stands Market Towers (1 Nine Elms Lane), a tall block in brown glass and cream concrete, within which the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) conducts its business. Its primary objective with regard to medicines is to safeguard public health by ensuring that all medicines on the UK market meet appropriate standards of safety, quality and efficacy. Meanwhile, a short stroll along Parry Road would bring you to the British Interplanetary Society. It was founded in 1933, and claims to be 'the world's longest established organisation devoted solely to supporting and promoting the exploration of space and astronautics'.
Also at Vauxhall Cross, three tall and trim orange cranes are busy in an area - known as the Effra site - alongside the Thames. They swing around and above a free-standing older building. This is Brunswick House, Grade II listed, built in 1758, and now boarded up, isolated, unloved and desperately awaiting some attention. In the mid-19th century, it was bought by the London and South Western Railway, and, until sold to private owners in the mid-1990s, functioned as a railway workers club.
The Effra site gets its name from the Effra river (or stream might be more accurate) that used to run into the Thames at this spot, a few meters upstream of Vauxhall Bridge. During Victorian times, it lost most of its flow above ground, and was referred to on maps as a sewer. On some old maps, though, there is an Effra Creek at this point, i.e. where the Effra flowed into the Thames.
The Effra site is part of the whole south bank area, from Vauxhall Bridge to Nine Elms Lane, called St George's Wharf. Up to the 1950s, it was owned by the Phoenix Gas Works. In 1961, permission was granted to build the Nine Elms cold store, a hideous concrete block. It was, for a time, used to store meat but then it stood empty for many years until the developers knocked it down in the late 1990s. For one very brief spell in 1990, the building was given a kind of artistic absolution: a group of musicians called Chemical Plant used it as a recording studio for a CD, released on their Chainsaw label, known as the Cold Store Tapes.
Although planning permission was granted in 1969 for a television centre, this was never acted on, and the spare land was used for parking from 1963 onwards. When Michael Heseltine was Secretary of State for the Environment, he developed a Thames-side policy requiring development sites to be subject to architectural competitions. Such a competition was held for the Effra site, which then, in 1982, included a stretch of riverbank north of Vauxhall Bridge. This led, eventually, to the construction of Spook's Castle, as it is known locally, the neo-Babylonian Foreign Office building, designed by Terry Farrell and home to any number of anonymous MI6 characters. Farrell is also known as the architect of such diverse buildings as the Henley Royal Regatta headquarters and Kowloon Railway Station in China.
A decade later planning permission was also granted for two residential
blocks, built in materials of similar colours to Spook's Castle, on the
south side of Vauxhall Bridge. Both have rooflets that look like birds'
wings or an open book. They have been described in many terms ranging from
'architecturally overwrought' to 'comic-opera Stalinism', but fortunately
I don't have to look at them for long. The three orange cranes are currently
working on completing the St George's Wharf project - designed by a company
called Broadway Malyan to be the 'ideal riverside development' - with several
more composite buildings as per more recent planning permissions. However,
Broadway Malyan has also come up with a controversial proposal to embellish
the site's building plans to include a 600 ft residential tower - the Vauxhall
Tower. The Greater London Authority likes it, but Lambeth Council doesn't,
and a public enquiry is planned for summer 2004.
A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting
by Paul K Lyons
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