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When the Stirling prize shortlist was announced last week there were gasps of incredulity that Neo Bankside, the angular cluster of luxury flats poking up behind Tate Modern in London, had muscled its way into a group of otherwise well-meaning buildings. What was this project doing on the list, many asked, as both a symbol of London’s iniquitous housing market and a project that’s not even one of Richard Rogers’s best? It looks like something churned out by his office’s B-team, generic glass silos wrapped in the trademark steel bracing, destined for a corner of the world where critics hopefully wouldn’t notice.
Echoing the surprise expressed in these pages, the project was slammed from all sides. This “stratospherically priced non-dom accom”, wrote Catherine Slessor, former editor of the Architectural Review, is “depressingly emblematic of how London is turning into a coarser version of Paris (unaffordable core, atomised banlieues)”. It is there “to remind us how money is driving housing as asset class rather than home”, agreed Financial Times critic Edwin Heathcote. “Neo Blingside?” quipped the Independent’s Jay Merrick.
But beyond the headline disdain about the unsavoury symbolism of these flashy pads, a closer look at the project’s planning history shows that it has set a very dangerous precedent in the way it exploits local policies and undermines the principle of creating mixed communities. […]