Stephen Hitchins looks at the progress of the largest development in London since the Great Fire of 1666, set to include the new American Embassy.
The billboards went up in Hong Kong in August, ads for flats in London. The promotional literature promises buyers a ‘global symbol of opulence’. Whether the extension to the Northern Line will be of much interest to them is a moot point. The developers are also holding Feng Shui seminars in Singapore to attract buyers to the same flats, in glazed apartment blocks similar to those that line urban waterfronts across the world these days.
That invisible Chinese force that shapes the positioning of buildings may or may not have been applied to the 80ha wasteland that will be the largest redevelopment in central London since 1666 and the Great Fire. Ten minutes’ walk from Parliament is a vast and unknown area, a triangle between Lambeth Bridge, Battersea Power Station and Wandsworth Road.
It will be the future home of the American Embassy, a revitalised New Covent Garden Market, a new business district, and a new gated world of those non-dom apartments being marketed around the world, the clusters of high-rise residential towers that are financing most of Nine Elms. There is no formal plan: too many separate landowners for that. London’s history teaches us that even if plans are commissioned they are largely ignored – starting post-Great Fire with the Versailles inspired scheme by Christopher Wren. At Nine Elms, the so-called creative mix is certainly mixed and not very creative. […]