It’s funny, though, how psychological absence of a place brings its changes into such sharp focus on subsequent returns.
I’ve known about the new apartment block being built near the library for ages. I’d seen the artist’s impression and barely given it a thought. And, despite the fact that the local vernacular quite happily absorbs and assimilates a variety of architectural styles from early to late Victorian, 1930s deco, and even a smattering of mid-century modernism, I hadn’t considered just how badly a seemingly faceless apartment block would fail to fit in.
A few yards from the beautiful red brick library built in 1838, a total turd of a building is coming into being. It looks like a particularly uninspiring, low-rate hotel or the type of hospital where boobs are made larger and noses made smaller. One curved metal-clad elevation already appears to be wilting tiredly towards the Victorian villas now cowering in its shadow on the opposite side of the road.
Admittedly, the wilting wall is the one ‘design feature’ (if, indeed, it can be claimed as such) to actually give the bloody thing any discernable façade whatsoever.
I stood on the pedestrian island staring at this scaffold and plastic-wrapped Jonah for a while – trying to decide whether it was designed by an architect at the beginning or end of his or her career. It could be either. It’s clearly someone who hasn’t spent much time in Leigh, nor cares as to the impact this brick-built, shit-coloured-box-of-nothing has on the town.
I shouldn’t give a toss about it, really. It’s so faceless as to be almost ignorable. But that’s precisely my point. What is it about so many new apartment blocks that causes such apathy in their design?
Before I moved to Leigh, I worked ‘in property’, as the saying goes when one is determinedly trying to be as vague as possible in order to attract the widest possible remit of services for which one may charge exponentially. I saw so many identikit apartment blocks with absolutely nothing to separate them from one another that I became confused and disorientated in lifts and stairwells, feeling as though I were trapped in some kind of computer-generated maze of beige décor.
I know precisely the fit and finish of Leigh’s latest development without having to set foot over the threshold. There’ll be no singular defining feature, aside from square footage, to differentiate the three hundred and twenty five grand apartments from the laughingly speculatively-priced six hundred and seventy five grand ‘penthouse’ – as if Leigh-on-Sea were proclaiming itself as the Essex version of Miami by route of its estate agents’ ability to successfully market every property on their books at least 20% over and above what any mortgage lender not on crack would deem an acceptable loan-to-value.
Six hundred and seventy five grand. You can buy a five bedroomed detached house in Leigh for that money. Or, alternatively, you could keep your cash/three decades worth of debt (delete as applicable) and refuse to buy into the cynicism of developers who aim their product directly at just the type of slack jawed cretins who think paying over the odds for a ‘uniformed concierge’ (I shit thee not), a bit of granite counter top and two sinks in the en-suite is going to give them the cache and style so desperately missing from their tight-jeaned, gelled-hair, BMW-wanking existence.
Yes, my rant is aimed at both the perpetrators turning a once-charming town into just another Brentwood: greedy developers and their lazy architects putting premiums on ‘soft close’ toilet lids and ‘fully tiled’ shower enclosures (is there any other kind?), and the uninspired pricks who blindly buy an apartment ‘off plan’ with no intention of actually being a useful part of the community going on around them. For example, the advent of ‘anti-homeless’ spikes recently exposed in the media goes some way towards disclosing the sinister agenda of both some developers and the type of people who buy their properties.
Maybe I’m being unfair, generalising and naïve. I certainly don’t believe every new apartment block is populated entirely by idiots. Leigh is, regretfully and undeservedly, becoming a big draw for a certain type of upwardly-facile dickhead.
Such wildlife can be viewed fighting and loudly gobbing off like some kind of comedy skit pastiche of themselves on any given weekend. Turning the route from the Rio bar all the way down Oakleigh Park Drive to the shudderingly awful Bellini’s into their personal latrine.
In digressing I am, perhaps, showing my true colours as a sort of social racist. I admit, I loathe the knuckle-headed bluster, uncreative profanity and swaggering ego of the type I saw so often in Leigh. I hate the thought of the place turned over to so many who simply don’t care about anything outside their own narrow frame of reference and are unable to expand their limited vocabulary further than to express shock/surprise/horror/joy/sadness by way of three-letter acronyms.
That architecture has a bearing on the personalities of those it provides for is proven. Developments all over the country, such as those being built in Leigh right now are, in their very blandness, creating a hothouse environment for a whole new breed of community inept morons with a serious superiority complex. If I can get past the uniformed concierge, maybe I’ll try and meet a few in the hope of being proved wrong.