Rampant peeping-Tomism

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In London, visitors to the Tate Modern (right) spy on residents of the Neo-Bankside. (Guardian)

With all the glass residential towers going up with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the hotshot cities of the world, the global market for binoculars and telescopes must be going haywire. But not everyone wants to be caught in the two-ring circus at the business end of someone else’s binoculars.

My recent post “Looking down on the Chrysler” on the blog This East Side explained how condo owners in Manhattan might soon be spying on each other, turning the Upper East Side into Peyton Place. Several readers have sent me the link to Oliver Wainwright’s piece “Gawpers Go Home!” in the Guardian – about a new London tower, the Neo Bankside, whose residents are suing the Tate Modern because visitors to its observation terrace keep “gawping” into their plate-glass windows.

They were sold on their proximity to Tate Modern. Now the residents of luxury flats are taking the gallery to court, arguing its viewing platform invades their privacy.

Boo-hoo! Wainwright doesn’t suffer these fools gladly, any less than he does the peeping Toms at the Tate, of whom he writes:

Climb to the summit of the Tate’s new twisted brick ziggurat and you are rewarded with majestic views of London’s skyline, where St Paul’s dome now competes for attention with the portly stump of the Walkie-Talkie, the swollen shaft of One Blackfriars and a host of other novelty forms in the capital’s own drunken sculpture garden. But most of the visitors are to be found huddled around the other side of the terrace, gawping at a spectacle of another kind: the pristine still lives of rich people’s homes.

The way he describes the “majestic” London skyline may explain why people would rather go to the “dull” side of the terrace to violate the privacy of rich people, whose taste certainly arouses Wainwright’s derision.

Like a vertical stack of Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde tanks, the apartments of Neo Bankside are piled up just metres away, their glass vitrines displaying glistening tableaux of Eames chairs, Castiglioni lamps and ornamental fruit in silver bowls – along with plenty of expensive telescopes for spying on the surrounding panorama. But it seems the residents want their crow’s nest views to work only one way.

Wainwright rolls his eyes at residents’ chances of winning their lawsuit, in which they seek damages for placing themselves willingly and with stupidity aforethought into their own “goldfish bowl.” Tate officials early on suggested putting up blinds or curtains – but that would hardly do! Why have magnifi- cent views if you must block them? Naturally, since their building faces the Tate Modern, I would argue with their definition of magnificent.

Wainwright’s article stretches out the what-ifs of viewupmanship as London’s booming tower market opens new lines of business for solicitors. No doubt the legal eagles of Manhattan are looking down from their aeries, paying very close attention.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Rampant peeping-Tomism

  1. I visit a friend who lives in the Peerless pretty often. The best views are across Westminster into the other former office and retail buildings, not across the atrium. The only time you can watch your neighbors is when you’re going to or from an apartment, and you have to be there just when the illicit couple arrives….

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  2. Yeah, Nancy, that’ll get your dander up! I wonder also at the folks who live in the Peerless Building downtown, with the building-high atrium, who can see who goes in and out of everybody’s apartment.

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  3. New condos/apts in Garden City – floor to ceiling windows. We neighbors are unwitting voyeurs! A cacophony of levolors, shades, nothing at all, and in the worst community violation – a sheet!

    I had a friend who lived at one of the downtown prison-like condos who would sit at her breakfast nook and watch the people working – or not – at the Blue Cross Xanadu building. She became intolerant of her rising premiums as she watched them eat their lunch, put their feet up on the desk and talk on the phone, or do their nails! True story…

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