Bunhill: The art of redevelopment

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The Independent Online
EAGLE-EYED cynics might think that the burghers of the City of London Corporation are making a belated and ill-conceived attempt to get in on the commercial property market.

But no. Although the upheaval going on in the historic Guildhall Yard was originally proposed at the height of the 1980s boom, the aim of the pounds 38m project is loftier and altogether more noble. It is designed to provide the corporation with 'greatly enhanced reception areas' for the hospitality it gives to visiting heads of state and other government guests.

It will also house a purpose-built gallery to display the corporation's art collection, which includes many Victorian paintings and City scenes, some by such renowned artists as Constable and Rossetti.

Inevitably, though, some space - about a third of the total - has been set aside for corporation offices.

But that isn't the end of the story. The delay in getting the project under way was caused by the discovery of remains of a Roman amphitheatre and a resulting local inquiry. Bowing to orders from the Government, the developers have devised a scheme whereby the excavations 60 feet below ground level cannot be touched, but can be seen by the public.

This clever stuff - which involves constructing two floors below the disused amphitheatre - has already added several million pounds to the original pounds 31m bill. The project, by the way, was financed out of the City's own coffers, not by ratepayers.

But there may yet be further changes, depending on what a team of archaeologists from the Museum of London finds when it moves into action shortly.

Naturally, the corporation is excited that the project is at last going ahead, not least because it deals with the last of the war-damaged sites in the area. 'It is an innovative scheme and will ensure the important Roman remains will be preserved and, more importantly, be publicly accessible,' said Patrick Roney, chairman of the committee running the project.

And the corporation should keep the traditionalists happy. It commissioned Richard Gilbert Scott, the architectural practice responsible for the building put up on the opposite side of the courtyard in the Seventies.

(Photograph omitted)