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'FORGOTTEN' FULLER FINDS FAVOUR

AGENDA

Two months ago one would have been hard-pressed to find more than a handful of Brits who'd have heard of Victorian architect Thomas Fuller.

Now his name has become synonymous with the nearest thing architecture can achieve to a diplomatic incident and a U-turn by both Wilkinson Eyre, two-times winner of the Stirling Prize, and James Dyson, possibly the biggest design entrepreneur in Britain.

The battlefield is a fairly nondescript mid-19th-century warehouse building on the outskirts of Bath, which Wilkinson Eyre had proposed to demolish to make way for the Dyson School of Design Innovation, a city academy.

The trouble with this plan - above and beyond the concerns of the ever-vociferous Bath conservation lobby - was that the building was built by British-born Fuller.

'Who's he?' everyone asked when heritage campaigner Adam Wilkinson named him as the building's designer.

The answer came in a chorus from across the Atlantic, as patriotic Canadians joined together in uproar.

'One of the greatest ever Canadian architects', they answered. 'The designer of the country's first parliament buildings - which largely burnt down in 1916, apart from the library - and any number of churches and cathedrals across Canada.'

This opposition to wholesale demolition of Fuller's warehouse has now left both Wilkinson Eyre and Dyson accepting that they must retain at the very least the facade of the historic building.

However, they say this redesign will mean the scheme's opening will be delayed by an academic year. The duo also face the prospect of the original building being spot-listed, although the government has yet to decide whether this should go ahead.

The opposition to the scheme has been extremely vociferous, particularly in Canada, with the issue making national headlines across the Atlantic.

One local architectural historian, Dorothy Mindenhall, told the Canadian national newspaper Globe and Mail that she was horrified that a building by Fuller, who also designed the New York State congress buildings in Albany, might be under threat.

'To my mind, this big, longitudinal building with a stone facade shows how he had developed the skill he used to produce the kinds of buildings he produced in Canada, ' she said.

It is also understood that the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada has lodged an objection.

A joint statement from Wilkinson Eyre and Dyson said they were now ready to plough on with the development.

The statement read: 'The James Dyson Foundation remains committed to the educational plans for the Dyson School of Design Innovation.'

As committed as both certainly are, there can be little doubt that they must be amazed at the hornets' nest they have managed to stir up.

And it's not over yet - watch this space.

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