It’s been a good 18-year run; London Mayor Sadiq Khan revealed yesterday that the Greater London Authority (GLA) and mayor’s office will vacate its purpose-designed home in Central London to cut costs amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Foster + Partners completed the City Hall building, a slanted ovoid along the River Thames, in 2002, but another architecturally significant (and equally glassy) alternative is reportedly on the table: the WilkinsonEyre-designed Crystal. Originally constructed as an exhibition hall for Siemens in 2012, the Crystal, which resembles a tesseract-ed sheet of paper, has been owned by the Greater London Authority since 2016. The center is located in the up-and-coming Royal Docks section of London, and Khan cited the potential for urban regeneration and spurring investment there as one reason for City Hall’s move.
Of course, the chief motivation for the proposed move is that the COVID-19 crisis has decimated the city’s coffers. Londoners, as in other global metropolitan areas, have been forced to stay home for the past few months in order to curb the virus’s spread and the economy (and associated tax revenue) has taken a proportional hit. The current City Hall is being rented to the GLA by the London-based, Kuwaiti-owned St Martins Property Group at a cost of $13.6 million a year, and although the city’s 25-year lease is set to expire in 2027, the earliest they can get out of the arrangement is 2021.
“Leaving our current home would save £55 million [$68 million] over five years, which would help us to protect and invest in the things that matter most to Londoners, as well as supporting the regeneration of the Royal Docks,” Khan said in a statement.
The announcement laid the administrative body’s troubles bare:
“Overall, the GLA Group faces a budget shortfall of up to £493 million [$612 million] over the next two years due to an unprecedented loss, because of Covid-19, of business rates and council tax income, with losses expected to continue in future years.”
A final decision on whether to jump ship will have to be made by this September, with the GLA and mayor’s office transitioning to a new home in December 2021. As of yesterday, the mayor and “the London Assembly, UNISON, PCS, the Chairs of GLA and Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) staff networks, and all GLA and MOPAC staff” have begun a six-week study to evaluate the proposal.