Where the confection of the MI6 building currently stands, there should be a gigantic tower block — the green giant.

The site of the spooks head-office and what is now flats opposite was originally cleared back in 1953 and 1963 respectively, and despite many attempts remained that way until the Green Giant was proposed in 1979.

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The development site in 1979

It was in 1979, the Conservative politician and businessman, Keith Wickenden MP proposed a development on the land, which at the time was owned by European Ferries.

He had a vision, of how business and culture could prosper together, and came up with a scheme for a mighty tower block, and also a new building which was to be offered to the Tate at a pepercorn rent to house its modern art collection.

The site would have included 100 luxury flats, and 300,000 sq ft of office space, which is was said oil giant Esso was interested in renting.

The potential building site was on both sides of Vauxhall Bridge on the southbank of the Thames. The tower was planned for the Eastern side with the art gallery on the West – and a tunnel under the road linking them together.

A design was put forward by Abbott Howard Architects – and this was to provoke outrage.

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The Green Giant

A 30 storey, 500 feet tall tower clad in green glass, swiftly earning the nickname of the Green Giant. Not so jolly was the public reaction to the tower, and Michael Heseltine, at the Department of the Environment called a public inquiry.

A mass of the well connected and worthy were up in arms against the proposal, with meetings held in Brixton where the likes of the sculptor Henry Moore and Sir John Betjeman railed against the development.

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed concerns.

Lord Duncan-Sandys, of the Civil Trust described the development as being of “monstrous proportions”, although he later conceded that the design wasn’t that bad, just its location.

The planning inspector eventually found against the design, and in July 1980 Heseltine agreed. He argued that the site was one of the gateways to London, and needed a design of the highest quality.

Permission refused, a number of other attempts were made to develop the site, until eventually Regalian Properties bought the site and hired post modernist architect, Terry Farrell to work on the site.

It was still a speculative office block site, when the government bought the building, and with modifications to the design, gave it to the overseas spy agency, MI6.

The secretive spies now have one of the most distinctive buildings on the Thames.

The current occupant of the site actually contains more office space that the Green Giant had proposed, much of it underground, but as it is also the home of MI6, lacks the art gallery or the private flats.

The Tate, having lost one possible southbank site for their modern art, later took up the much larger Bankside power station instead.

Sources:

Skyscraper News

The Independent, 15th September 1992

Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics 1983

SIS via Wayback Archive

Hansard

The Times, 14th January 1980

The Times, 18th January 1980

Illustrated London News 29th March 1980

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3 comments on “Unbuilt London: Vauxhall’s Green Giant
  1. Roy Latham says:

    There is no underground office space in Vauxhall Cross. I was working on the third floor of Camelford House and overlooked the site during the construction. I watched the survey, pile driving and a large part of the construction. There are a couple of archaeological sites that were preserved between the piles that support the building which would limit the ability to create a basement.

  2. Chris White says:

    I worked at an office in Market Towers from 1988 until a couple of years when the building came down. We had a view from our fourth-floor office of the Nine Elms Cold Store (a building I always liked) and the coach park behind it. We watched the development of St George’s Wharf – the developers occupied a temporary office on the same floor for a couple of years – and I rather wish they’d developed this building on that piece of land instead of what we have now.

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