Under construction ...Centre Point.

Col. Richard Siefert's controversial Centre Point building nearing completion in 1964, seen from Oxford Street.

I seem to remember that planning permission for the building was granted as part of a scheme to construct a new roundabout which would have resulted in the destruction of the area around St Giles Circus. Eventually the roundabout was shelved and a one-way system was substituted. Once it had been completed, Centre Point's owner, the tycoon Harry Hyams, allowed it to stand empty for many years, rapidly increasing in value in the 1960s property boom. Also, as long as it remained unlet, Hyams didn't have to pay rates on the building. His cynicism earned him a great deal of opprobrium ...a common fate of people who get rich quick while their accusers don't. Eventually he went on a charm offensive, placing full-page advertisements in the national newspapers in an attempt to paint his motives in a favourable light. In the advertisements Centre Point was described as "this very wonderful building". This was pounced upon by Private Eye and the phrase "very wonderful" became part of its vocabulary.

Compared to most 1960s office buildings, Centre Point strikes me as slender, nicely fenestrated and not unattractive. From a distance it has a certain grandeur, but no modern architect seems capable of designing a building that is attractive close-up at ground level.

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Taken on September 13, 2008