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Astragal

Odd man in

Shortlisted in the latest attempt to find a masterplanner for the South Bank, Sir Michael Hopkins must have had a sense of deja vu: he was in the final three alongside Allies and Morrison and Richard Rogers last time round in 1994. Some observers are baffled by the final shortlist, also comprising Dixon Jones, Rick Mather and oma, since only Rem Koolhaas at oma seems to have had any serious experience of urban masterplanning. Some of the reasons given for the shortlistings are odd, to say the least. Dixon Jones is praised for its 'experience from the Royal Opera House development', which presumably means avoiding large arts projects in central London. Hopkins has 'determination, pragmatism, drive and strong ability to deliver', which makes him sound suitable as a recruit for the war in Serbia. Rick Mather brings a 'sensitive urban planning perspective' through work with university sites (East Anglia - so urban!). Koolhaas is praised for his 'keen understanding of the modern cityscape and a real feeling for urban scale'. No contest, then.

In the money

Boom times are back! Shares in Aukett Associates, the one architectural firm still listed on the main Stock Exchange, hit the giddy heights of 13.5p last week - they had been below 6p - on the back of projected earnings for six month of £600,000, which led one analyst - very sharp, this one - to predict full year figures of £1.25 million. Meanwhile the incoming priba, Marco Goldschmied, is to take a penthouse apartment in Montevetro, the luxury housing scheme in Battersea by his firm Richard Rogers Partnership. Evidently not luxurious enough, for Marco is rumoured to be spending a sum not unadjacent to Aukett's half-year earnings on the fit-out. Meanwhile cheery news from bdp, whose nicely produced annual results brochure tells us that chairman Richard Saxon manages to get by on £128,000 pa (without bonuses). Why be a lawyer?

Plus ca change

Christopher Booker, self-appointed expert on everything, has shot himself in the foot in a Sunday Telegraph story about Ian Ritchie's Crystal Palace scheme, being opposed by dreary surburbanites frightened of an appropriate landmark in their back yards. Ritchie won a High Court battle before Christmas with a masterly analysis of why his design, for a cinema complex atop the Crystal Palace site, 'reflected the style of the original', as required under the 1990 Crystal Palace Act. Booker launches an attack on the court decision under the headline: 'Experts say these two designs are the same thing'. That is precisely what they did not say. Wake up, Booker!

Designing the jar

Should Sir Norman Foster's 'gherkin' office design for the City of London get speedy planning approvals? Thus far, the rfac and eh have been positive, and City planners are much happier about the 200m height than Norman's previous 650m whopper for the Baltic Exchange site. The big doubt now seems to concern the way, as we used to say, the wall meets the ground. But will the City accept a design in which the tower sinks deep into the earth surrounded by a moat-like design, or will it insist on something more conventional?

Not too chilly

A piquant moment at the riba last week, when a luncheon for a visiting delegation from Chile coincided with the announcement that General Pinochet will face extradition after all. The visitors' innate good manners precluded any great awkwardness. Chile had the foresight to found its first school of architecture in 1834, some seven years before T L Donaldson became a professor at ucl, and more than a decade before the foundation of the aa - the uk's oldest surviving school of architecture. The Chileans were divided in their view about extradition, but the majority opinion seemed to be that they would prefer to settle things themselves rather than be dictated to by Spain (a feeling they know well).

In the pink

Female car-owners in Budapest can enjoy a new 'women's car park' above a shopping centre - but are not necessarily too happy about it. The reason is not the 24-hour security and male attendants available to carry shopping, but the extra-wide bays (an insult), and the bright pink walls which have attracted the name Barbie Parking Lot (it sounds snappier in Hungarian).

Music of time

Whatever comedian Rory Bremner and parliamentary sketch writer Matthew Parris were chortling over at the riba's Patisserie Valerie the other morning, at least they were enthusiastic about their surroundings. 'It's a great sort of a place for a tea dance,' opined Matthew. Don't tell Alex . . .

Same old story

I hear of an eu open day in Brussels, said to herald a shift in eu funding from agriculture to urban culture. So I call up the website, unpromisingly located at www.cordis.lu/eesd/src/k4-ev-1.htm, where I turn up the following: '. . . pre-normative research will confer genuine European added value to the process within appropriate regulatory frameworks, for example in a post-Kyoto context'. Once they've sorted out cities, maybe they will turn to language, and website addresses.

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