Home > Architecture & Urban Design, Local Interest & History, Personal, Things I Like... > London’s only Deconstructivist Building? Peter Clash* @ Canary Wharf

London’s only Deconstructivist Building? Peter Clash* @ Canary Wharf

When I was at PCL at the turn of the Nineties, learning how to be an Architect, one of the big architectural movements of the time was Deconstructivism, a sometimes complex approach to design in which surfaces, plans and form were subjected to rigorous processes of fragmentation, reorganisation and manipulation. The resultant proposals were often chaotic and random in appearance, and it was often hard not to think that much of it was made up as it went along and then post rationalised to some sense of validity only at the very end… (As students of course the rigour bit was usually missing, and the post rationalising bit overly relied on…)

Still, in many ways it was the perfect antidote to the tedious formal excesses of Postmodernism, allowing students and architects alike, to really let their imaginations loose, creating many thousands of miles of paper architecture (i.e. stuff that could never be built) whilst only a relatively few practices achieved convincing projects that were actually constructed (Co-op Himmelb(l)au, Morphosis and Peter Wilson come first to mind…)

Anyway, I never really worked out why, but outside of the student environment, the Europeans and Americans were always better at Deconstructivism and seemed to take it more seriously than we did. In fact, I can only really think of one building in London that I might suggest has any Deconstructivist leanings… and that is this little building near Canary Wharf by one of my old PCL visiting tutors, Peter Clash. A building which I happened to cycle past recently, having completely forgotten all about it, and which I think still looks pretty amazing…

Tucked away at the back of the Canary Wharf Development, is what I think it is a control building for raising the bridge next to which it stands, so allowing boats through to the inner dock areas. Surprisingly I can find absolutely nothing at all about it on line, so I can’t even confirm its proper title or use, but it must have been completed before about 1991 when I left PCL, because I can clearly remember cycling over to see it when Peter told us it had been completed. Docklands then was not the place it is today, trust me… I seemed to cycle around for hours through the wilderness of E14 looking for the bloody thing…

It’s a wonderful little gem… A utilitarian, silver, metal clad base building the shape of a quarter circle, with a variety of sized and shaped openings punched through its skin. A simple staircase placed externally along one side, leading up to a control box held in its seemingly precarious position via two steels that don’t seem to have enough fixing back to the structure, whilst the “monocoque” roof curves down to an interesting flick of an eaves and on down to the floor.

Then there’s the curved services tray, playfully reflecting the form of the cables should they have been left unsupported, and the knowing, sci-fi like appearance of the control room perched rather off-puttingly at almost exactly eye level height from the bridge… It looks like the control tower could retract into the main armoured body of the building if it sensed it was in danger…

Whether Peter Clash (still working, still making lovely things) would have thought of it as Deconstructivist, I don’t know, but I suspect not. He always struck me as something of a cool dude, who would surely have resisted any such obvious attempts at categorisation…

But it made my day seeing it once again after all this time and remembering the fun we had at PCL being encouraged to do silly things in the name of architecture…

* UPDATE : I have been corrected, this building is credited to Allsop & Störmer. As such, I am somewhat confused. Everything I wrote in this post is the truth as  I remember it… I can only think that Peter Clash was maybe working at A&S and involved on this project when I knew him, and I had forgottten that…

  1. Rawden
    April 17, 2012 at 07:24

    I actually remember this from my uni days in australia so it got around. Alsop and Stormer (who were actually the architects for this, as opposed to Peter Clash – did he perhaps work for them before forming clash assoc?) were sometimes labelled as Decons, but I bet Will would probably laugh if you said that to him now. This was also a precursor to Canary Wharf PLC’s other gem in the form of Future Systems / Anthony Hunt bridge completed in the mid nineties. Thanks for posting though.

    • April 17, 2012 at 09:14

      Hi Rawden
      Thanks for visiting and reading.. Now I’m in a real quandry, what I wrote is absolutely true, about Peter telling us it was his and my cycling to see it.. Maybe you’re right though, and he worked for A&S at the time, I don’t now remember… Kaplicky’s bridge is still here, still flourescent yellow although slightly faded now… Strangely people took to throwing coins over the side and there are (or were a year or so back) hundreds of coins on the supports just below the water line.
      Joe Blogs

  2. June 4, 2014 at 14:02

    Jools Holland refer’s to it as a Will Alsop designed ‘chicken’ on this way to Canary Wharf, for a documentary ‘Building Sights’ for BBC (1995) and available on iPlayer right now: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p01rrc9j/building-sights-series-4-1-canary-wharf

    • June 5, 2014 at 10:28

      howdy rtype909
      A most excellent find indeed. Many thanks…
      We moved here in 2000, although I’d been coming to the Docklands since the late 1980’s. It’s a bit scary really so much of what Jools drives through in 1996 is now unrecognisable.. How things have changed in the intervening years.
      Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment

      • January 30, 2019 at 16:17

        hi Joe, i’m feeling the same about Manchester. From my apartment, Will Alsop designed, i gaze upon a forest of cranes building row upon row of monotonous architecture. At night or on the early train to london as I leave Manchester there is a firmament of beady red lights representing these cranes. Will Alsop was simply not recognised in his time for buildings that in years to come will have distinctive look and an aesthetic. Instead we let Norman Foster et al clobber our urban landscape with steel shards.
        best wishes

  3. October 7, 2014 at 22:34

    I did my ‘year-out’ (1989-1990) at what was then “Alsop and Lyall” and worked under Peter Clash on drawing up details and attending site meetings for this project (Canary Wharf Easter Access Bascule Bridge Plant Room). The main building contains a diesel generator, and the ‘head’ element is the control room for use when the lifting bridge is in operation. The project also included fishing platforms under the bridge. The practice split shortly after I left, with John Lyall and Will Alsop going their separate ways.

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