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Camden set to reject 'Modernism'

The London Borough of Camden has thrown out a planning application for Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners' £20 million cancer research centre at University College London, with the planning committee citing 'poor design standards'. And in a warning to other architects, the committee's chair has given notice that the council is gearing up to 'break the unthinking Modernist fan club'.

The centre - rejected two weeks ago - was savaged by Camden borough's planning committee for being 'too Modernist' despite winning the support of CABE, English Heritage and the council's planning department.

In a letter sent to the client, the planning committee said there is no way it would back the scheme proposed for the site of a Grade II-listed former nurses' home in the Bloomsbury Conservation Area. 'We could never sanction the demolition of this building without a replacement that is remotely satisfactory, ' the letter says.

Regardless of the decision to dismiss the centre, both the architect and the client have vowed to simultaneously appeal to the deputy prime minister and resubmit a reformed scheme within weeks.

Planning committee chairman Brian Woodrow was scathing about the six-storey scheme. 'This was nothing but a glass box, ' he told the AJ. 'It looked completely out of place in the surrounding area. So we threw it out.'

The official reasons for the scheme's rejection include a vicious attack on design quality. The committee's report hits out at the building's external appearance, the use of materials and the detailing.

In a letter of official support for the project, CABE's Design Review Committee held a completely opposite opinion of its architectural merit.

It said: 'The skilful design would give a new dimension to the views from the surrounding area.'

But Woodrow criticised the design champion's role in proceedings. 'CABE seems to simply back the big-name architects if they submit a scheme, ' he said. 'It should never have given its support to this project.'

And he had a warning for anyone else looking to develop within Camden's boundaries. 'I have just taken over a new, younger committee and it is determined to reject this attachment to Modernism.'

Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners was amazed that the scheme did not win the green light. Project architect Simon Moore said the practice is still very committed to the cancer centre.

Moore dismissed the committee as failing to take into account the interested parties: 'The committee didn't listen to the locals, it didn't listen to University College Hospital, and it didn't listen to either CABE or English Heritage. There is no way we are going to give up on this project. We will appeal to the government, and at the same time, we will resubmit within weeks.'

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