032c sheds light on the only project the seminal modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe ever designed for Britain – one that never came to fruition. Through the REAL foundation and with financing from Kickstarter, a book is now in the works on the processes and history of one the most notable architectural endeavours that was never realized. Jack Self, both the director of REAL and editor at large of 032c, sits down with Lord Peter Palumbo to discuss the could have been project in what is a fascinating and illuminating interview that highlights the transnational nature of architecture as a design arena. Read the full interview here.
How did the square evolve? There’s a prevalent myth that the square was criticised for being a potential site of protest, but this was not at all how it was conceived or perceived at the time.
No, not at all, on the contrary. It was initially created out of pure necessity. The shallow depth of the underground rail tunnels made deep foundations extremely difficult except at the western end of the site. If a tower was to be planned all the floor area would go into that, which necessitated a square. But it was the historian John Summerson who understood this square for all its civic possibilities. We had lunch in Soho once and he spoke about Mies’ scheme. He said, “I like this building. I like it because it’s so classical. There’s a lot of rubbish on the site at present. Let’s photograph it in detail and take it all down, and put this up because it’s much, much better.” As he was leaving, he said, “I think I’ll write a letter to The Times to kick things off,” which he did. The letter was about the evolution of the city, and how Mies’ building would be a much better solution for the site. He argued the scheme with the square would provide much needed respite at a congested junction – where nobody had anywhere to sit, or anywhere to walk without danger of being run over. The ceremonial possibilities of Mansion House were quite limited, and he wanted to open that up. That letter set the tone for the square’s public perception as a gathering place.