AJ Exclusive: the reasons why English Heritage backed Commonwealth Institute plans
English Heritage (EH) has claimed it ‘would have been irresponsible to turn away’ OMA’s controversial Commonwealth Institute plans
In a letter to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (see the original here), the organisation said that the ‘substantial public benefits secured through the application’ – including the arrival of the Design museum – would ‘outweigh the harm’ to the Grade II*-listed, West London landmark (1962).
EH admitted the proposals, which were approved a week before the organisation submitted its formal thoughts, had raised a ‘difficult question of balancing competing planning aims’, mainly due to the loss of the ‘administration wing and designed landscape’ and ‘compromising’ alterations to the exhibition hall.
However, EH conceded that the plans by Rem Koolhaas’ practice, which were revised following an initial outcry, were now acceptable. The letter reads:
‘[This] building is at risk and there is an increasingly urgent need to secure its future through a new, economically viable and sustainable use. These proposals are intended to repair and adapt the exhibition hall for a new public cultural use. Such a change has the potential to enhance the significance and communal value of the building. In our view, this would be a major public benefit, which best reflects the original design intent and significance of the building.’
Speaking to the AJ, EH’s London regional director Paddy Pugh, said: ‘[By allowing this] We are helping to secure a sustainable future for the most important parts of the building. It would have been irresponsible to turn away from this building, which has sat empty for 13 years, in the hope that somebody might have come along [and retained the entire building]. It might have sat empty for another 13 years.’
He added: ‘We do not see this as selling out the building or turning our backs on post-war architecture. We have spent six months going through the proposals and weighing up their individual benefits and harm. We are not shying away from the damage but it is wholly clear the benefits, in this exceptional case, do outweigh the harm.’