Grow­ing ever up­wards

The al­most 2,000-yearold city of Lon­don is fac­ing great change as global in­vest­ment spurs the build­ing of more and more tow­ers.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ART - By DAN­ICA KIRKA > FROM PRE­VI­OUS PAGE

THE face of Lon­don is about to change. Dozens of build­ings of 20 sto­ries or more are un­der con­struc­tion or planned along the south bank of the River Thames just up­stream from world renowned icons like Big Ben and the ma­jes­tic dome of St Paul’s Cathe­dral. The de­vel­op­ment surge, fu­elled by wealthy for­eign­ers look­ing for a safe place to in­vest, has spawned con­cern that the city is sac­ri­fic­ing its her­itage for the sake of lux­ury homes.

“Lon­don is in dan­ger of be­com­ing a sort of Abu Dhabi, a sort of Hong Kong,” warned Nigel Barker of English Her­itage, a body de­voted to pro­tect­ing the na­tion’s in­her­i­tance.

It’s not that Lon­don lacks dis­tinc­tive tall build­ings: the 87-storey Shard stabs the sky south of Lon­don Bridge, the 41-storey Gherkin rises above the fi­nan­cial dis­trict, and soon there will be the 38-storey Walkie Talkie, all of which earned their nick­names be­cause of their unique shapes.

But crit­ics are con­cerned about the sheer num­ber of new projects – some 200 in var­i­ous stages of con­sid­er­a­tion or con­struc­tion, ac­cord­ing to New Lon­don Ar­chi­tec­ture, an in­de­pen­dent group study­ing de­vel­op­ment. Many of them are res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties clus­tered along the south side of the Thames with views of the wa­ter and the ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sures across the river.

Un­ease about tall build­ings in this city, which prides it­self in hav­ing risen from the ashes of the Great Fire in 1666, isn’t new. Ar­chi­tec­tural purists like Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, have long warned against skyscrap­ers.

But eco­nomic forces fol­low­ing the 2008 eco­nomic cri­sis have rekin­dled the con­flict be­tween de­vel­op­ment and con­ser­va­tion. While the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment seeks to rein in the fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try, Lon­don con­tin­ues to at­tract for­eign money and wealthy ex­pa­tri­ates, strain­ing the city’s Vic­to­rian-era in­fra­struc­ture and widen­ing the wealth gap.

The in­de­pen­dent Smith In­sti­tute es­ti­mated in 2012 that in­vest­ment in lux­ury homes was £5bil (RM27.5bil) a year. In the two years through June 2013, for­eign na­tion­als bought 69% of the newly built homes that sold for more than £1mil (RM5.5mil) in cen­tral Lon­don, ac­cord­ing to an Oc­to­ber re­port by Knight Frank, a Lon­don prop­erty ad­viser.

In tra­di­tional Chi­nese horse paint­ing, Phua said, flat brushes are rarely used as they make paint­ing the horse ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.

Phua in­te­grates his skills of tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing with a sense of moder­nity. Through his bold and vig­or­ous brush­work, the horses on the rice pa­per come alive with pow­er­ful en­ergy.

But his mas­tery with horse paint­ing comes from his ob­ser­va­tion of horses with his “brain and heart.”

Phua also uses a unique tech­nique in ren­der­ing the horse’s gal­lop­ing mo­tion. The four limbs of the horse are ren­dered in a sim­plis­tic way us­ing vig­or­ous cal­li­graphic brush strokes. His tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing brush­work is said to be “force­ful, en­er­getic, un­re­strained as well as bold.”

“The tremen­dous en­ergy in my horse paint­ings is like a surg­ing sym­phony rous­ing up the be­hold­ers,” he said.

Ear­lier this month, Phua took his art to the masses. He painted the “long­est sin­gle horse paint­ing (12m by 6m) with paint on can­vas” at Suria KLCC. En­ti­tled One Big Horse to rep­re­sents 1Malaysia, it was com­pleted in about 40 min­utes, he said.

Phua used the largest Chi­nese brush (big-

“It is a honey­pot for global cap­i­tal,” says Peter Mur­ray, chair­man of New Lon­don Ar­chi­tec­ture. “So we’re see­ing pres­sures we’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. The move­ment of global cap­i­tal is hav­ing a dra­matic ef­fect on how we plan the city.”

As gov­ern­ments poured money into banks to save them dur­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, rich peo­ple around the world sought safe places to park their money. In­vestors flocked to Lon­don be­cause of the sta­bil­ity of Bri­tain’s gov­ern­ment, the city’s vi­brancy and its tol­er­ance for new­com­ers.

“We didn’t know that the UK in gen­eral, and Lon­don in par­tic­u­lar, would be seen as a safe haven for peo­ple all over the world,” says Tony Travers, an ex­pert on is­sues fac­ing the cap­i­tal at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics. “Prop­erty in Lon­don was treated as an as­set class that was safer than, say, banks in Cyprus.”

From 2007, just be­fore the cri­sis, to Oc­to­ber 2013, house prices in Lon­don’s most de­sir­able neigh­bour­hoods rose sharply. In Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea, home to Kens­ing­ton Palace and Not­ting Hill, av­er­age prices rose 42% to £1.2mil (RM6.6mil), ac­cord­ing to the Smith In­sti­tute. In the City of West­min­ster, which hosts the Houses of Par­lia­ment, prices jumped 43% to £863,000 (RM4.7mil).

Prices for newly built homes on the south bank of the river are even higher. A fourbed­room apart­ment that is slightly more than 600sqm in the 50-storey Tower at St Ge­orge Wharf is be­ing of­fered for £19.5mil (RM107.6mil).

The boom is also a re­flec­tion of Lon­don’s at­trac­tive­ness as one of the world’s most cos­mopoli­tan cities. With a pop­u­la­tion of 8.2 mil­lion, Lon­don boasts not just peo­ple from all cor­ners of the for­mer Em­pire, but ev­ery­where else, too. There are more French cit­i­zens liv­ing in Lon­don, for ex­am­ple, than in Bordeaux, France. Then there are some 250,000 Amer­i­cans.

De­mand for hous­ing has spurred de­vel­op­ment, with a dozen con­struc­tion cranes jut­ting into the sky along the south bank of the river west of West­min­ster Bridge. The work is part of a £15bil (RM82.8bil) col­lec­tion of projects known as Nine Elms, which pro­mot­ers say will cre­ate 16,000 new homes, 25,000 jobs and an “in­ter­na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant busi­ness dis­trict” in the bor­oughs of Lam­beth and Wandsworth.

Deputy mayor for plan­ning Ed­ward Lis­ter says there’s a strate­gic ap­proach to pro­tect­ing the city’s sky­line, with de­tailed poli­cies mak­ing sure the right build­ings are in the right place.

“What we can’t do is try to im­pose some kind of freeze on the sky­line and sus­pend the cap­i­tal in sta­sis,” he says.

Oth­ers aren’t so sure about it all, among them Unesco’s (United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tion, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion) World Her­itage Com­mit­tee, the moral over­seer of sites of sig­nif­i­cance. It has ex­pressed con­cern about de­vel­op­ment near the Lon­don Houses of Par­lia­ment, fear­ing it will ruin the view from West­min­ster, and has urged au­thor­i­ties “to en­sure that th­ese pro­pos­als are not ger than a mop) made with horse hair in Malaysia.

He con­sid­ered the event to be an art demon­stra­tion and an ex­er­cise to chal­lenge his abil­ity as an artist.

“As 2014 is the Year of the Horse, this at­tempt was even more mean­ing­ful,” said Phua.

Datuk Danny Ooi, the founder of the Malaysia Book of Records, wit­nessed the record-mak­ing at­tempt on Jan 16 to­gether with two Tan Sri Richard Cham (chair­man of Se­lan­gor Turf Club) and An­drew Brien, CEO of Suria KLCC. Phua reck­oned his horse paint­ing will also be un­of­fi­cially the world’s largest Chi­nese horse paint­ing.

“My aim is to share my ex­pe­ri­ence, art­works, opin­ions and knowl­edge of art with art en­thu­si­asts around the world,” he con­cluded.

More info at www.jame­s­phuade­ ap­proved in their cur­rent form”.

Should the com­mit­tee ul­ti­mately put the site on its en­dan­gered list, it would be an em­bar­rass­ment for Bri­tain, which takes pride in safe­guard­ing its na­tional trea­sures.

Crit­ics say the power of lo­cal coun­cils to ap­prove con­struc­tion is lead­ing to dis­con­nected plan­ning – even though city au­thor­i­ties have the fi­nal say. The city, crit­ics com­plain, is be­ing re-de­signed via mis­sion creep, one sky­scraper at a time.

That’s a prob­lem for peo­ple like Barker, who wants the city to look more closely at the over­all pic­ture and to re­mem­ber that tourists – to say noth­ing of in­vestors – come to see parks, squares, bell tow­ers and palaces.

“Lon­don trades on its look more than other cities,” he points out, adding that he hopes there will be more aware­ness of the changes the city faces.

Paul Hack­ett, the Smith In­sti­tute’s di­rec­tor, ar­gues that lo­cal gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions should face more scru­tiny. “There should be a pub­lic dis­cus­sion,” he says. “If there are 200 tall build­ings planned, that’s fine. But there should be a proper de­bate.” – AP

New sky­line: The an­cient city of Lon­don now boasts glit­ter­ing glass tow­ers and fu­tur­is­tic shapes. — reuters

Polo (97cm x 181cm) is a paint­ing de­pict­ing a game of polo, which Phua has taken keen in­ter­est in when it comes to his art.

The Shard at its inau­gu­ra­tion in 2012 upon the com­ple­tion of its ex­te­rior. Can Lon­don find a bal­ance be­tween old and new with­out los­ing what makes it one of the most vis­ited cities in the world?

This is the aus­pi­ciously named Suc­ces­supon ar­rivalOfTheHorse (70 cm x 138.5cm), which is also a pop­u­lar Chi­nese adage.

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