Those who watched the Stirling Prize coverage on television last Sunday will have heard Will Alsop's somewhat indecorous comments on the planning authorities in the boroughs of Camden and Kensington and Chelsea. It is true that there is a tendency for authorities with high-quality historic building stock to be a little too eager to protect the status quo.We don't get our best modern architecture in the centre of Canterbury or Chester, but in places where conservationists carry less weight. Southwark, with little in the way of picturesque street scenery, welcomed the Tate Modern and, of course, the Stirling prizewinning Peckham Library. And it is thoroughly appropriate that Alsop should express his gratitude to Southwark in his acceptance speech.
Whether or not Kensington and Chelsea or Camden deserved Alsop's vitriol is open to question. Both boroughs have a history of brave (and not so brave) planning decisions. Kensington and Chelsea has shown itself to be unusually adventurous in its decision to approve Libeskind's Spiral at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Camden is currently facing a test of nerves over the question of whether or not to insist on the demolition of the stone portico at the British Museum.
Hopefully it will eventually declare that if the architect is satisfied with its appearance, the portico should stay.
Norman Foster has demonstrated a sensitivity to historic buildings as sophisticated as any specialist. The pared-down, oh-so-simple Foster idiom produces new buildings which are always elegant but perhaps a little soulless, yet can be relied upon to allow existing architecture to sing. The Sackler Gallery remains one of his best projects.With or without French limestone, the British Museum is an outstanding piece of work. And the less well-known JCDecaux UK headquarters in Brentford, Middlesex, has just won the Crown Estates Conservation Award. It would be easy to assume that an architect who seems to hold a permanent position on the Stirling shortlist might be inclined to view the conservation award as something of a booby prize. In fact, it is a timely mark of mark of recognition for what Foster does best.