One in the eye for Lord St John - Books - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

One in the eye for Lord St John

The Millennium Wheel will provide what London conspicuously lacks, a good vantage point from which to survey the city. In my view, its size is a virtue

"All that one must do to understand our case," wrote a group of distressed aesthetes in 1887, "is to imagine for a moment a dizzily ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a black and gigantic factory chimney, crushing beneath its barbarous mass Notre-Dame, the Sainte Chapelle, the Louvre, the dome of the Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all our humiliated monuments, all our raped architecture disappearing in this stupefying dream." The object of this trill of alarm was the Eiffel Tower, which was already rising on the Champs de Mars, in preparation for the centenary exposition of 1889.

These days, those who set out to protect the chastity of the national heritage are a little more bureaucratic in their language. "Wholly unsuitable for this part of London," says Lord St John of Fawsley, chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission, responding to a proposal by architects David Marks and Julia Barfield to build a 500ft big wheel on the South Bank of the Thames. It would, he complains, have "a damaging visual impact on the Royal Parks, the neighbouring Grade I listed buildings and the world heritage site of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament". Not quite raped, then, but certainly affronted.

As it happens, Lord St John knows something about damaging Royal Parks. As chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission, he gave his blessing to the Queen Elizabeth gates, a truly hideous confection of wrought iron and poster paint which now disgraces the south-eastern exit from Hyde Park. They are probably the most tawdry addition to London's landscape since the Elephant and Castle shopping centre was painted pink, but they escaped Lord St John's fastidious disdain for one overriding reason - they had royal connections, and Lord St John is a man who melts before pedigree.

The wheel, on the other hand, is unabashedly democratic in spirit, a structure that proposes to elevate any Tom, Dick or Harriet with the admission price (and quite a few without - concessions will be offered). You may feel, as I do, that that anything that gets up Lord St John's nose is worth building on those grounds alone. But the wheel will offer far more than that.

It will be vast - more than three times the height of Tower Bridge and 120 feet taller than St Paul's - thus providing what London conspicuously lacks, a good vantage point from which to survey the city. In my view its size is a virtue - a smack at the offend-nobody good manners of most urban planning. Sheer scale doesn't have a good name in architectural circles, being associated mostly with megalomaniacs - commercial or political. But Eiffel knew that it had its place in symbolic buildings. "There is an attraction and a charm inherent in the colossal," he wrote, "that is not subject to ordinary theories of art. Does anyone pretend that the Pyramids have so forcefully gripped the imagination of men through their artistic value? What are they after all but artificial hillocks?" In its height the wheel represents an unrestrained exuberance which has been sadly lacking in alternative millennium proposals. It is, in the best sense, a structure of refined vulgarity - an idea of obvious popular appeal carried out in the purest geometry. Eiffel dressed up his tower with decorative arches, to conceal the alarming novelty of his technology, but the wheel makes no such concessions to human vertigo, hanging over the river on a cantilevered bearing, an awesome testimony to modern British design.

If it is extravagant in imagination and flair, though, the wheel is quite the opposite in its operation. Sixty per cent of the energy needed to operate it will come from the river beneath, harnessed by turbines. It makes no claim on the Millennium Fund, having already secured a commercial sponsorship deal which will underwrite its construction costs (around pounds 9.5m) in return, presumably, for a cut in the wheel's revenue. It is engineered for symbolic performance, too, a literally revolutionary device provoking ideas of human time, universal orbits, the rise and fall of fortune. It will be the first high-rise structure that could not conceivably be dismissed as phallic.

The objectors to the Eiffel Tower described it as "useless and monstrous". So is the wheel, but in the most uplifting way imaginable. It is the perfect response to the timidity and aridity of spirit that Heritage worship has inflicted on us - a reminder we shouldn't go into the next century tugging our forelocks to the past but rather celebrating the possibilities of the future.

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week