Olympic regeneration claims are "bullsh*t"
- Rowan Moore


Future of the Olympic Park

News: architecture critic Rowan Moore has labelled Renzo Piano's Shard skyscraper as a "serious failure of planning" and described claims that the Olympics will regenerate east London as "bullsh*t".

Moore, architecture critic of the Observer, said the £12 billion spent on the London 2012 Olympics had created a "big buzz" but criticised the organisers of the games for justifying the cost by claiming they would regenerate east London.

Rowan Moore

"The deal with the Olympics ought to be really simple," Moore (above) told Dezeen during a filmed interview yesterday. "It’s this very big amazing event which, if it goes well, gives the host country a big buzz, as happened with the London Olympics, and for that you have to pay £12bn, or whatever the real cost is. And that’s almost the beginning and the end of it. If you wanted to regenerate east London there’d be much, much easier ways to do it than holding the Olympics, and much cheaper."

He added: "But the people who promote the Olympics find it hard to admit that. They say it’s about regeneration, it’s about boosting sporting legacy, it’s about boosting business, it’s sustainable. All these things are absolute bullshit."

Moore, former director of the Architecture Foundation and editor of Blueprint magazine, made the statements as part of a wide-ranging interview with Dezeen to coincide with the publication of his new book, Why We Build (below). The book explores the forces - including hope, power, money and sex - that drive the creation of architecture.

Why We Build by Rowan Moore

"On the Olympics site they’re going to build about 12,000 homes and I think they’re going to make about a similar number of jobs," Moore added. "If you’re really saying you have to hold the Olympic Games in order to achieve the equivalent of a middle-sized market town in east London, that’s just daft. That’s not how you go around regenerating things."

More than 11,000 homes will be built on the site of the Olympic Park in the next 20 years, according to plans set out by the London Legacy Development Corporation, with the first new development made up of apartments converted from the Athletes' Village.

Moore added: "I think they’ve done a better job than most previous Olympics, but it’s really up in the air what happens next. It could be a great model for how to improve areas. I mean, people in Stratford say it’s given them pride in the place, so that’s great. The big question is whether we get the usual housebuilders moving in and doing their usual product and essentially creating private enclaves."

The Shard

Moore also discussed The Shard (above), the 300 metre high skyscraper by Italian architect Renzo Piano, which opened above London Bridge Station in July this year.

"The contribution of it to its immediate surroundings is pretty minimal," Moore said. "You can be ten feet away from The Shard and if you’re looking away from it you wouldn’t know it was there.

"The Shard is clearly an icon, and it is very clearly a product of the last 10 years, in that it is by a famous architect, it’s a striking shape, it’s funded by Qatari money, it’s the sort of speculative building that was made possible by a planning culture in London that was very developer-friendly, very much about attracting investment."

Moore criticised the way the tower fails to interact with, or benefit, the surrounding area. "[It] is sort of amazing, and a serious failure of planning, that you could put that much investment into a place and not have a positive idea about what the whole place is going to be."

In an interview Dezeen published with Renzo Piano earlier this year, the architect claimed The Shard was designed to be "quite gentle". "I don’t think arrogance will be a character of this building," said Piano. "I think its presence will be quite subtle. Sharp but subtle."

Despite its failings, Moore admits the skyscraper has already become a popular addition to the skyline. "The principles behind it are all wrong, but it has captured people’s imagination and it has become part of the mental furniture of London in a way that I think is positive," he said.

"Also The Shard just proves that this stuff is going to go on forever – we’re always going to have Shards, always going to have Burj Khalifas, always going to have Chrysler Buildings, so there’s always going to be big money and it’s always going to build big buildings."

You can read an extract from Moore's new book, Why We Build, in our story published last month. The story also contains details of a competition to win a copy of the book, which closes tomorrow. A movie and transcript of the interview with Moore will be available soon.

Moore told Dezeen that the book explores "the interaction between architecture and human emotions and desires" and the failure of architects to understand how people actually inhabit buildings, and also draws attention to those architects who Moore believes "allow people to finish the story" of a building, such as the Brazilian modernist Lina Bo Bardi.

Dezeen's coverage of The Shard includes an interview with Renzo Piano and a movie of the building's construction.

Our London 2012 Olympics coverage includes Olympic architectureThomas Heatherwick's Olympic cauldron, reports on Paralympic design and our own medals for the best loved Olympic designs.

  • Jason

    Finally… someone who shares my opinion! The Shard is an instant landmark however I feel the only value it adds to the surrounding area at the moment is by the way of the amount of postcards vendors can sell with its image on. As a student it’s worrying the direction architecture is taking in modern cities.

  • Jason

    In addition… Piano claims the Shard is not arrogant, however it gives the opposite impression to me (someone who grew up in the local area). It stands aloof, almost too important and big to bother making an effort with its immediate surroundings.

  • Benjamin

    Personally, I think that with his publicity-seeking outburst Rowan Moore damages his own reputation more than anyone else’s.

    “The contribution of [the Shard] to its immediate surroundings is pretty minimal,” Moore said. “You can be ten feet away from The Shard and if you’re looking away from it you wouldn’t know it was there.”?!

    In making such a statement, Moore is merely flaunting his ignorance of how large developments change areas.

    The building has only just been finished! The sister development at its base is still ongoing and no-one has yet moved in. Once occupied it will bring huge amounts of people and investment south of the river having positive effects both in the immediate surroundings and for rapidly regenerating areas such as Elephant & Castle. Surely there are better ways to publicise a book?

  • Robert

    I do so agree with Benjamin, above, regarding his comments about Moore.

    If one was to stand near to, but facing away from ANY structure large or small of course one would not know it was there – not St Paul’s or a garden shed!! The area around The Shard is already redeveloping, and further plans are undoubtedly being drawn up. The Shard itself is now connected to London Bridge Station concourse, and the station and its Underground are being redeveloped, as are the local businesses, markets and facilities. Even as a northerner, away from the ‘centre of the world’ it is clear that, as Benjamin says, it takes time, but much has and is being done already. Equally so regards the Olympic site areas.

    Without being too cynical, Moore’s rather pointless and ignorant comments seem to be more to do with making waves in connection with his book than those of a sensible critic making worthwhile and constructive opinions.

  • DJH

    Totally agree with the comments above re: Moore. He is a publicity seeking blowhard.

    His comments on the Olympics and East London show a complete lack of knowledge or understanding. They have created the largest new park created in Europe in the last century and have transformed people’s perceptions of Stratford and East London already and it’s far from finished. The project was never sold on £12 billion to regenerate East London, that is just how he and some other members of the media have decided to represent it.

    Anyone who can remember a post apocalyptic landscape criss crossed by giant pylons and then sat amongst the wild flowers of the park last month would not begrudge the transformation taking place or the money required to do it.

    I just wish the Observer would get a better architecture critic.