Looking down, all is ruins

Battersea’a Marco Polo House is practically down to its last pediment. It was a jaunty survivor of the golden age of London’s Po-Mo phase and sat alongside Battersea Park in what was then a wasteland of empty sites and abandoned industry. The block that rose alongside it was originally designed by Will Allsop but the site was sold and a banal stock building took its place. The more substantial complex that runs down to the river, Chelsea Bridge Wharf, was even worse, a forerunner of other nearby developments like the Viridian. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the Power Station (see before).

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Residential is where it’s at. Despite a lengthy spell as global HQ for the endlessly fascinating QVC Shopping Channel, Marco Polo house is to be developed. The cleared site will rise again as Vista from Berkeley Homes, part of the district’s relentless scouring and re-construction (see this tmn piece).

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In all honesty, we didn’t like the Marco Polo building. It was easy to sneer at, especially at a time when the alternative – big ‘M’ Modernism – seemed to come from a more noble and honest tradition. Now we’re not so sure. Marco Polo was created by the designer developer Ian Pollard. It had an undeniable sense of humour, although perhaps not quite as much as his far more successful Homebase store on Warwick Road, which cheekily blended Stirling’s Staatsgalerie (‘Britischer Architekt‘) with cod-Egyptian detailing. Post-modernism was fun, and we can’t imagine much fun on display at the ‘Vista’, especially as many of its apartments will lie empty, ticking up value in their absent owners’ portfolios. Pollard eventually took up residence at Abbey House in Wiltshire, where he flung of his last inhibitions (and his clothes) and got truly back to nature (although even this bucolic Eden seems to be crumbling).

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Nothing ever lasts forever. Marco Polo wasn’t named directly for one of history’s greatest travellers, but for an object that was itself named after the Italian; the Thor communications satellites, aka Marco Polos 1 and 2, built by Hughes Space and Communications and launched in 1989 and 1990 to kickstart the UK’s satellite TV service. Both satellites were sent into graveyard orbit over a decade ago; you can occasionally see lingering squarials designed exclusively to receive their transmissions.

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The above illustration is from William Halfpenny’s ‘A New and Compleat System of Architecture Delineated, In a Variety of Plans and Elevations of Designs for Convenient and Decorated Houses,’ published in 1749

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