Monday, 30 November 2009

St Giles, Renzo Piano and a cast of outcasts

The five blocks of Central Saint Giles have clambered onto the London skylineClad in 5,479 yellow, orange, green and red ceramic panels, the blocks tower over Henry Flitcroft's church of St-Giles-In-The-Fields (click on photo to enlarge). The two-acre complex also creeps up on nearby Shaftesbury Avenue, Centre Point and Denmark Street, London's electric guitar alley, writes Paul Coleman. 

Architect Renzo Piano's development promises 'a new public realm' just off St Giles High Street, one of London's forgotten thoroughfares. 
The new edifice rises in an area rich in history because so many of its former inhabitants, many of whom were Irish immigrants, were crippled by poverty. It's close to the site of the 'Rookery', a notoriously overcrowded London slum.
Burials in St Giles' churchyard ceased in 1853 after public health fears. 
The ruinous Gin craze of the 17th Century destroyed many lives in St Giles.

Some claim highwayman Claude Duval was buried at St Giles after being hung at Tyburn in 1670.
Earlier, many Londoners accused St Giles' dwellers for starting the Great Plague of 1665.
The church started out as a hospital for lepers.
St Giles was also thought to have been a Saxon village and a Roman burial ground.
Aptly, given its inhabitants' tortuous history, St Giles was named after the patron saint of outcasts. 

Bovis and Stanhope's joint development will offer new offices, private and 'affordable' homes, shops, restaurants, cafés and a public piazza.
Central Saint Giles replaces the demolished St Giles Court office block. 
Built in the early 1950s,the old block housed the former Ministry of Aviation. 
In recent years, spiked railings and banks of CCTV cameras protected this Cold War remnant. 
Grimed net curtains concealed a vast array of darkened, seemingly empty rooms. Mysteriously, lights could be seen shining from one upper floor.
To add to its mystery and menace, I've heard it was still being used by MI5, er...sorry, the Ministry of Defence. 
Only falling London Plane tree leaves, the odd beer can and wandering plastic bags evaded the railings. 
Look closely at the tree branches in the photo (above). 
The mysterious block might've disappeared but you can see that 'witches knickers' still like to visit St Giles. 

Want to see for yourself? Nearest tube:Tottenham Court Road.
Nearest cool coffee place? Ola, on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Photo (above) shows Central Saint Giles, the white buildings next to Centre Point, as shown on the huge model of London displayed at The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, WC1. The blue line shows the Crossrail route east and west of Tottenham Court Road. Of course, Crossrail will run underground beneath central London!

Nearest cool coffee place: Er...the coffee bar in the foyer of The Building Centre!

1 comment:

LondonRob said...

I really like this development - and I am usually anti change in central London! I work just near here and the previous building was certainly no thing of beauty. So long as Denmark St retains its character.