Mayor nips Foster’s Tulip

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Proposed Tulip observation tower at center left. (Architects’ Journal)

On July 15, London Mayor Sadiq Khan nipped Lord Foster’s proposed Tulip in the bud. Fine. But why? It does not “represent world-class architecture,” quoth the mayor. “Mayor rejects ‘unwelcoming, poorly designed’ Tulip,” stated Architects’ Journal. One study declared it looks like “a surveillance tower,” which it was to have been, except for the use of tourists, not prison guards. “Of insufficient quality,” echoed a mayoral aide, adding that it would “harm London’s skyline.” Really? How could he tell?

Look at the photo above of London’s skyline. Look at the buildings around the  Tulip cropped into the photo across the street from the Gherkin (also by Foster). By what standard do any of these buildings qualify as “world-class architecture”? Which are “welcoming”? Which do no harm to the skyline of London? Not a single one of them. No doubt the hardest job in the world is service as a member of the Pritzker Prize jury. Modern architecture has no comprehensible set of standards by which to judge the quality of its prize submissions. It’s a movable feast, if that’s the sort of thing you find tasty.

One observer of that photo no doubt sported images in her memory of the London skylines of the distant past, skylines in which church spires literally aspired and the Tower Bridge actually towered. She wondered whether it was really London and not, say, Qatar. Surely her question was rhetorical, because in fact it really is not London, not the London beloved for centuries around the world. Although some tourist precincts survive intact, that London has been gone for at least a couple of decades.

Even 40 years ago, when I first visited London, many streets were pimpled with low- and mid-rise modernist buildings, often filling in for the rubble left by the Luftwaffe. The only real tower I recall seeing in central London then was Lloyds of London, designed in the ridiculous inside-out style of Richard Rogers, weighing in at a mere 14 stories and still incomplete in 1979. It was shown to me by my host, a boyhood friend enrolled at the London School of Economics, whose girlfriend and eventual wife we met at the building, where she worked for the Rothschilds. That was long before I ever thought of being an architecture critic, and five years before Prince Charles’s famous speech condemning a proposed addition to the National Gallery as “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend.”

Those words killed that project, just as Mayor Khan’s words appear to have killed Lord Foster’s Tulip. The difference is that the Prince of Wales knew whereof he spoke.

(Residents of Providence will wish Mayor Elorza had Mayor Khan’s authoritative powers over the fate of buildings.)

About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, 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 Mayor nips Foster’s Tulip

  1. Pingback: Tulip survives London nip | Architecture Here and There

  2. LazyReader says:

    Every decade or so, a city on the decline often tries to build something monumental even if it serves no possible or economic use.. In the old days we called them follies. The tulip tower is just such a folly. The fuckin reckless delusion of our age made manifest in architecture. It takes a special lack of sensibility to chill out in a lounge chair a thousand feet up, by which I mean there is something in human neurology that seeks a sense of groundedness and enclosure. Call it paranoia or survival instinct. But we’re more impressed looking up at tall building, not looking down. It doesn’t resemble a tulip, but more the docking tower in Star Wars.


  3. mario sampaio says:

    This flinstonian war you have been fueling, against modern architecture, totally looses its credibility due to your irrational inability to rwcognize a modern architectural event that exudes quality in conception, design and contextual final result.

    There are enough of these events within a relatively short distance from rhode island, and it would do your cause some good, if you showed an emotionally balanced view as well as rational valid arguments, not emotional irrational opinions…..

    Otherwise, im afraid you are beginning to look sound and amell a alittle like cervantes dom quixote…. Which doesnt at all, help your cause of erradicating anything and everything somewhat related to modern and contemporary architecture

    There is really no need to consider modern architecture the result of a few sick pups illusory ambitious sick dreams… It is not only much easier but actually much more credible, to shoot down modern architecture based on fair rational valid arguments….. And this is exactly where the prince failed and so are you due to the exact same mistake. DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY!

    You also make some pretyy ridiculous and false claims namely that there is no way to judge quality modern ardhitecture…. So does that mean your cultural sense only works for traditional events? Exactly what kind of cultural sense is that? ignorance isnt culture at all, quite on the contrary…… Culture has the capacity to rationalize, ignorance judges….

    In fact, thats not even cu.ture mate, thats simply ignorance of the most basic kind. You may want to discuss this with your shrink and stop sounding like a little spoilt child because you are making a fool of yourself and your childdishness isnt helping our cause

    ps i happen to be a strong defendant of traditional architecture. The difference between us is i actually design buildings, so i know what im talking about…… Do you?…. make an effort to be intelctually honest. Give it a try you will see that its a much stronger and more effective tool to defend your points of view


    On Thursday, July 18, 2019, Architecture Here and There wrote:

    > David Brussat posted: ” On July 15, London Mayor Sadiq Khan nipped Lord > Foster’s proposed Tulip in the bud. Fine. But why? It does not “represent > world-class architecture,” quoth the mayor. “Mayor rejects ‘unwelcoming, > poorly designed’ Tulip,” opined Architects’ Journal. One s” >


    • Mario, we will have to agree to disagree on most things architectural. I congratulate you for your even tone, maintained until almost your last paragraph. Remarkable. I have a long and proud history of attracting rants from RISD and Brown architectural deans and faculty, and demands that my Journal columns be killed or me sacked.

      I actually do praise modern architecture on rare occasions, and am, I think, about to praise a new modernist pedestrian bridge in Providence, though it has not opened so I have not written it up yet. Please give my readers examples of modern architecture near (or in!) Rhode Island that “exude quality in conception, design and contextual final result.”

      I do not think one needs to be an architect to judge architecture, any more than one needs to be a soldier to judge war. Many modernists claim to support traditional architecture – so long as it is a century old or more. The question is would you support a new traditional building? Or would you be forced to condemn it as “Flintstonian”?

      I am pleased to be criticized as a Don Quixote. Cervantes was defending love and honor, which he perceived as going downhill even back then. I do not expect that traditional architecture has much chance against the architectural establishment, but fighting it is an honorable calling. Thanks for your thoughts and for reading my blog!

      Liked by 1 person

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