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Conservation concerns over change of use

A proposal to change a Grade I Arts-and-Crafts building back into a private home has sparked major concerns over its future use.

Debenham House in Kensington, designed by Halsey Ricardo in 1905, has 17 bedrooms, a gym, and courts for squash and fives. Its 30-year lease to the mental-health charity Richmond Fellowship expires in 2000. The owner, Ilchester Estate, aims to sell it for private use, which campaigners fear would put a stop to the tours and visits occasionally run by the fellowship.

At present the exotic interiors of Debenham House - with turquoise and green tiles by William de Morgan - contains the charity's administration hq, but was formerly used to house mentally ill patients.

Catherine Croft, architectural historian, said: 'It counters the association of mental health with grim, run-down architecture and perhaps helps dispel some of the stigma still attached to mental health problems.' The building is 10 minutes' walk from Leighton House and forms a unique collection of 'magnificent but intimate' late-nineteenth-century houses, she said.

Richard Holder, senior architectural advisor at the Victorian Society, said he was concerned about the requirement for modern-day homes to have en-suite bathrooms and its impact on the 'one-off' design. A private owner should be sympathetic to the building, he said.

David Ashton Hill Architects has been appointed to repair interior damage to bathrooms and other areas. The building is thought to be structurally sound. David Ashton Hill said: 'It is not suitable for use as an institutional or semi-public building. The fireplaces are stacked up with working files and office rubbish, which does not display the building as it ought to be seen.'

The planning application is expected to go to committee in five months.

Zaha Hadid's latest completion, a 'bundle of paths through, under and over' a visitor and exhibition centre, officially opens next week. 'LF one', in Germany's Weil am Rhein, will be a trilingual centre for an international gardening exhibition. The £1.3 million ground-hugging concrete scheme will also house a cafe, outdoor terrace and environmental research centre for Swiss, German and French workers. The shape of the building 'literally bleeds out and dissolves into the surrounding landscape', says the architect. The local authority is the client.

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