London city of towers. Well, it soon will be, when the forest of planned skyscrapers is completed, but it does have some already. One of my favourites is in South Kensington, the proud but lonely height whose Indian(ish) dome looks down on the brainboxes of Imperial College.
‘You, the Patriot Architect,’ wrote Tennyson in the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, 1887: Shape a stately memorial, Make it regally gorgeous, Some Imperial Institute, Rich in Symbol, in ornament, Which may speak to the centuries All the centuries after us.
Vain hopes for eternity, alas. The 285ft Queen’s Tower is all that’s left of the Imperial Institute, upon which so many hopes were pinned. Too many hopes. The institute was supposed to solve Britain’s economic ills by integrating trade throughout the Empire.
Thomas Collcutt fulfilled the brief nobody richer ‘in Symbol, in ornament’ than him but the institute couldn’t fulfil its grandiose mission and most of his building was demolished in the 1960s. Still, it fared better than the colossal tower proposed by J. P. Seddon and E. B. Lamb by Westminster Abbey, as a monument to British heroes. That was never built.