The 200-foot glass cube is raised up on a hill, set back from the nearest street by over 100 feet, and surrounded by a moat—or a “pond,” as the architects would prefer you to call it.Within this defensive buffer zone, the planning application drawings reveal a fascinating world of military-bucolic strategies, a tactical topography of “hostile vehicle mitigation” techniques woven into an undulating idyll of prairie grasses and weeping willows." data-hires="/uploads/image/attachment/1931/full_screen_42_Wainwright_2_bollard-hedge.jpg" data-id="lightbox-image-block-409" src="/uploads/image/attachment/1931/c4_42_Wainwright_2_bollard-hedge.jpg" / To the north, the site is bordered with an English yew hedge, which leads to meadowland planted with species native to North America (“analogous to the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom,” the architects reason). Secreted inside the foliage will be a line of steel and concrete bollards capable of stopping an eight-ton truck driving head-on at 40 miles per hour.
With the sale of Saarinen’s building to the property development arm of the Qatari royal family (which has hired David Chipperfield Architects to convert it into a luxury hotel), funds were used to acquire a former rail-yard site south of the river, close to Battersea Power Station.
It was the equivalent of moving from Park Avenue to New Jersey, but it gave US authorities carte blanche to create a new piece of city planned entirely around their security needs, of a scale and level of control that London has never seen.
The design, the firm explained, was inspired by European castles—not in having 20-foot-thick stone walls and chutes for showering boiling oil down on the enemy, but in that the building’s defensive strategy would be hidden in the landscape.
In principle, the scheme isn’t too far from a medieval motte and bailey.
A squat glass cube rises above the banks of the River Thames in Nine Elms, southwest London, colored with the same dark greenish-gray pallor as the murky waters of the river itself.
It has a similar medicinal hue to the cheap glazing of the speculative apartment blocks nearby, but this is one of the most expensive façades in town—and there’s a reason for its sludgy tinge.
Parliament’s MPs might do well to visit London’s annual Security & Counter Terror Expo, a sprawling trade fair of paranoia, which proudly claims to showcase “the key terror threat areas under one roof,” and how they can be tackled with ever more sophisticated products.
Among the stands peddling surveillance drones, bomb-disposal robots, and portable forensics labs are endless varieties of bollards and fencing, available with any number of different “toppings”—from electrified wires and sensor detection systems, to good old lacerating razor wire.
" data-hires="/uploads/image/attachment/1927/full_screen_42_Wainwright_ROS_photo_harvard.jpg" data-id="lightbox-image-block-405" src="/uploads/image/attachment/1927/c4_42_Wainwright_ROS_photo_harvard.jpg" / " data-hires="/uploads/image/attachment/1928/full_screen_42_Wainwright_ROS_map_harvard.jpg" data-id="lightbox-image-block-406" src="/uploads/image/attachment/1928/c4_42_Wainwright_ROS_map_harvard.jpg" / It is a subtlety that the Palace of Westminster, home to the House of Commons and Lords, has yet to catch on to.
While the government departments of neighboring Whitehall recently lined their streets with ornate Portland stone balustrades, which are cleverly reinforced inside with steel crash-proof bollards, Parliament itself is still surrounded by a blockade of gargantuan black steel barriers, as if civil war had recently broken out.