An Aztec Gem

Vanbrugh Hill

Here’s a place you either love or hate. I’m not talking about what goes on inside, but the building itself. Where it stands now, it looks a bit incongruous as its friend, the monster that was Greenwich District Hospital, has now gone and it sits between Victorian villas and a giant hole, but it was once, not so very long ago, part of a 1970s vision.
Admittedly it wasn’t a very good vision. I only know one person that mourns the architecture of that dead hospital, with its streaked grey concrete walls, forbidding brutalist walls and yellow-stained chimney. It certainly isn’t me. For me that hospital, however handy practically, had absolutely nothing going for it aesthetically.
But this little building…
This building I like. Yes, it’s seen better days – I’m sure when its architect drew it’s “artist’s impression” for the first time, it had Ancient Babylonian window boxes with cascading flowers from every level, rather than a couple of overgrown pot plants and some dead ivy, and the entrance hall is decidedly shabby. The nasty carpet tiles inside and solid concrete stairs drag it down, but just look at that exterior.
I seriously doubt the same architect who created the monstrosity next door designed this, though curiously, it’s been nigh-on impossible for me to find anything out about either of the two buildings. It’s as though both places have been or are to be expunged from the popular memory – as though that 30-odd years never happened. I’ve found NO records so far at all.
I love this building because there is something of the Aztec about it. That great stepped pyramid shape, the way it delves below street level – hell – even that service-room on top looks like some kind of ancient altar.
I’m sad that this building, I am told, is for the chop. This is one modern building I’d like to keep. Instead of pulling it down, I’d like to celebrate it. Redecorate inside; reinstate those Babylonian window boxes. Spend the cash saved on pulling it down and rebuilding on extra health services or frivolous touches. How about a reclining figure of Chris Roberts at the temple entrance, like those Mexican figures…
There are few modern buildings around Greenwich that have real architectural merit. Certainly, for me, the hospital didn’t, and I’d be only too pleased to see the nasty complex in West Greenwich that houses Somerfield levelled. But I’m not one for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This one, this one, I believe, has earned its place…

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