In December of 2008 Sellar unveiled their preliminary proposals for redevelopment of the junction of Bermondsey Street, St Thomas Street and Snowsfields.  The preview was for a selected group of locals and luminaries.  I don’t know what persuaded them to invite me but they probably resolved quickly to leave me off the invitation list thereafter.

The meeting was held in the former S C Hall leather warehouse in Snowsfields – well known to me as I had regularly bought upholstery leather there over many years.  The building had been sold to Sellar in July of that year for £6.75m.  It is a typical Victorian Warehouse of the type that dominated the surrounding streets until perhaps 30 years ago but with heavier floor construction than most – presumably because it once stored vinegar casks.

The centerpiece of the show was a large model of the proposed development and a fair amount of the surrounding area that I recall being rather inaccurate.  I suppose if you model on a scale that takes in more of the suroundings, big towers don’t look so big – but the model maker gets a bit bored at the irrelevance of buildings at some distance from the proposal.

One of Sellar’s string puppets had the unenviable job of presenting these plans of extraordinary incongruity to the assembled group.  The hyperbole was something to behold.  We were told that the Sellar masterplan included rebuilding the Guys Hospital Tower as well as the school in Snowsfields (which is an attractive Victorian ‘Board School’ building).  The names of Hertzog and De Meuron, the appointed architects were dropped at every opportunity.  That firm was riding high on the ‘Birds Nest Stadium’ fame they achieved at the Beijing Olympics only a few months before.  And Sellar’s man was talking as if Beijing Olyimpic budgets were theirs for the asking.

Of such advanced technology were the proposed towers, we were told, that they had only become possible within the past couple of years.  Asked by me to explain this, the puppet fumbled something about computers.  Invited to explain whether he was trying to claim that computers simply did not have the shear processing power to handle the calculations involved until recently he confirmed with some relief that this was his point.  At the other end of the technology scale, I asked about a wind-tunnel study of the proposal.  He responded by accepting that this was a recognized problem but theirs was an ingeniously simple solution – plant a tree in the wind corridor.  He was also so wittering on about hydraulic shock absorption in the buildings.  Needless to say, my request for clarification of this technological wonder produced almost complete collapse of the poor man in a suit. Even I was starting to feel sorry for him and let him off with an agreement to email me the details of all the technical wizardry that he obviously didn’t understand. (Needless to say, it never came – although I got a ‘thank you for coming email’)  By this point James Sellar obviously started to feel for his puppet’s embarrassment and sidled over to try and charm me into backing off.

TestShortly after the preview meeting various trade and national press articles appeared, notably this one in The Times (left – click to enlarge).  Various journalists called me and asked such insightful questions as what colour the towers were.  I told them that the real story was the fanciful economics of the plan but they wanted pictures.  As Sellar wasn’t releasing any, they had to piece together and invent the images they published.

The only photo I am aware of was taken by my son Harley on his phone (below right) before he was stopped by the Sellar staff.

(The story continues as I get time to write it.  As it goes up a bit raw  – any voluntary sub-editors would be welcome to spot my spelling mistakes and tidy up my copy – let me know. RG)


4 Comments

  1. John Corey says:

    Russell,

    Great summary. I think your writing style wonderful. Thanks for putting the time in.

  2. Robin says:

    I think the design looks very innovative and will compliment the other high-rise buildings going up in the area well. Can’t wait to see the finished renders and hope it gets built!

  3. Bonnie says:

    The Birds Nest was ABYSMAL! The shard is Nasty. Before they built it I recieved Shard Propaganda through my letterbox didsguised as “local community news” papers. Property Developers really do think that people are mugs! In fact they are banking on it.. This is an excellent Campaign. Thankyou so much.

  4. Russell Gray says:

    We are doing our best Bonnie.

    Look out for the series on Southwark’s shenanigans coming in the next day or two. No.1. – How they colluded with Sellar over the Shard satellites.

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