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PRINCE'S PET HATE LAID TO REST

NEWS

The directors of Fletcher Priest are no doubt glad that the outburst-prone Prince of Wales is wining and dining in US high society this week. At least he won't be in Britain to unleash another statement along the lines of his recent proclamation that the masses may start appreciating him 'when he's gone'.

Fletcher Priest might reasonably expect Prince Charles to wade in to its affairs because one of his pet hates - Mondial House, which nestles on the north bank of the Thames near London Bridge 'like a malignant carbuncle' - is set to undergo a transformation at its hands.

The AJ can exclusively reveal the look of Fletcher Priest's replacement for Mondial. It's a fairly ambitious office scheme but, sadly, the project is unlikely to be praised for its intrinsic worth - it is far more likely to win positive headlines for finally putting to death the Prince's bête noire.

The site originally housed a brewery, which was bombed in the Second World War, and was then replaced by an international telephone exchange for the Post Office, designed by Hubbard Ford & Partners' London office in 1969.

It was this building, made of bush-hammered concrete with glass-fibre panels on the upper storeys, that attracted so many enemies. The lower two floors extend towards the river as a kind of podium on which the rest of the former exchange sits. The building has been described as looking variously like a ship, a ziggurat, a giant typewriter, or merely as being 'intimidating'.

The Prince leapt on this critical bandwagon, singling out the 'dreadful' Mondial House for condemnation in his 1989 book A Vision of Britain.

'To me, this building is redolent of a word processor, ' he wrote.

'I don't see that people want a perpetual view of a word processor when they find themselves living with them in the office or at home.' In 1992, British Telecom announced its plans to close the exchange as part of the company's rationalisation of operator services and the site was bought by its current developer in July of last year.

Fletcher Priest's plans are to open up the front of the building - to increase the amount of light reaching the interior and take advantage of the building's prominent riverfront site. The original Mondial House had three basement levels and large foundations, and the lower floors once housed a fi re station. Indeed, in this new scheme the concrete cladding of the ground floor is retained, saving about nine months of construction time.

However, Robert Adam - who held a fundraising dinner with Prince Charles at Clarence House last week - believes the new building is not a radical improvement on the previous structure. 'Deary me, ' he sighed when presented with the building's riverside elevation.

'It's just a glass box with sticks on the front. It's out of the frying pan and into the fire. I wouldn't have thought the Prince of Wales would be in the least bit encouraged by a replacement like this.' While this response could be seen as predictable coming as it does from a hardened Classicist, most others are likely to welcome the replacement, if only by using the backhanded compliment of 'it's better than what was there before'.

In that sense, Fletcher Priest really has nothing to lose.

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