06 February 2009

Waterloo: How would you feel if you won the contract?

Last night I was at a consultation event (right) for the reconstruction of the area round Waterloo station.

Three firms of architects gave presentations of their daring, ambitious, exciting plans to an audience of locals, single-issue fanatics such as me, and men in suits who were other architects, to judge by the way they weren't talking to any of the locals. We fill in feedback forms, and one of the three firms will be selected to come up with some watered-down compromises instead.

I thoroughly recommend these social-event public consultations. You can snag free wine and canapes, challenge the presenters about their schemes, and fill your feedback form with complaints that they haven't taken enough into account the needs of locals/ foreigners/ commuters/ buses/ cyclists/ wheelchair users/ skateboarders etc.

It was an entertaining evening. Architects at these events say what the bloke who bodges your fireplace says, only in middle-class English. Translated into Builder, the thrust of their presentations was: Who done all that? Terrible workmanship, that is. See that raandabaat they put in? You couldn't get away with that naah. All those underpasses, they'll all 'ave to come aht. The lot. You want a big public square? Pffff.... They done that in Milan, see, an' it was a total disaster. Total. Disaster.

Most amusing is the question time. Some local people, let me stress, ask sensible questions and make pertinent, compact points, which seem genuinely useful.

Others, enjoying the novelty of being listened to, refuse to put the microphone down despite having no apparent point: "What I wanna say is, I've been 'ere FORTY YEARS. And you sit there, you don't know nuffin, and I'm tellin' you, cos I've been ere FORTY YEARS, we come 'ere, and you sit there, and what I wanna know is...is... what abaht us eh? Eh? What I'm saying is... I've been 'ere forty years, like I said..."

And there's always a mad old woman in a ludicrous hat who heckles everyone with mysterious petty grievances.

I asked the shortest question of the evening: "I cycle this route every day. How will your particular scheme benefit cyclists?". The three firms said oh yes well cycle parking obviously is important and erm cycle lanes and um the needs of cyclists are of course paramount and er I often cycle myself actually so erm yes absolutely.

Not much, then.

I couldn't really decide between the three firms. DSDHA had a whizzy 3D fly-past presentation and were the most touchy-feely. EDAW were the only ones that specifically mentioned bikes in their plans (that's their illustration up on the right). Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands had the most impressive presenter (Alex Lifschutz) who also - crucially - was the one who looked most like an architect.

So it was a result all round: free wine; free grub; a bit of knockabout comedy; and whoever gets the commission I don't really mind because Waterloo will probably end up as unpleasant for cyclists as it is now.

Which is just as well, as they probably won't be able to read my writing on the feedback form.

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