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Every building seeks to satisfy at least three groups of people - those who build it, those who live in it and those who pass by it. Each of those groups sees themselves as the most important, the people whose interests must be served above all others. But where one group's interests are dominant a building is often a failure. A construction built to maximise profit rarely offers good accommodation or a positive contribution to the local environment. One that is built with the approbation of the general public in mind often fails as a space in which to live or work, and can stretch a budget. The hard trick is to satisfy all of the separate, and sometimes conflicting, interests.
I've often looked across the Thames at Canary Wharf and thought about the individual buildings that have gone up over the years. One that stands out as different from the others is Cascades Tower, a 20 storey, 194 feet (59m) block built between 1986 and 1988 by CZWG Architects. The left side is a tower with a slightly undulating facade, bands of coloured brick and an unusually large variety of different sized and shaped windows and balconies. At the top is decorative metalwork in a shape that reminds me of eel traps. What makes it different from the run-of-the-mill apartment complex is the big, "ski-jump" slope on the right side of the Thames facade, a stepped structure with glazed roofing: presumably the "cascades". To say it is the ugly duckling alongside swans is to attach too much value to some of the other towers. However, it is a pretty ghastly offering compared with most, a busy looking beehive for young executives of the nearby financial institutions. At least that's how it appears from the outside. The individual apartments may be all that people want and need, and some of those for sale at the moment look fine. But as a contribution to the location and a building that will forever (or at least a few decades) stand in front of the taller blocks, it leaves everything to be desired.
photograph and text © Tony Boughen
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