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RCA go-ahead 'a tragedy' for site

Grimshaw has got the go-ahead for its 'ellipse' building for the Royal College of Art, despite impassioned protests from Docomomo and the Twentieth Century Society.

And HT Cadbury-Brown, whose Grade II-listed 1959-64 building on the site now faces partial demolition, has called the decision a 'tragedy'.

Westminster council granted approval for the project last Thursday, subject to detailed design refinements. The decision follows heated debate about possible damage the £26 million, six-storey Grimshaw block will do to the delicate relationship between the buildings at the Kensington site (AJ 22.5.03).

Cadbury-Brown told the AJ he was 'sad and cross' that Westminster council had failed 'to realise the importance of the Victorian complex and the spaces around the Royal Albert Hall and Norman Shaw's buildings'.

'No architect wants to see his buildings demolished or altered, ' Cadbury-Brown said. 'My building will be affected, but much much more important is the total effect on the neighbourhood and the grand Victorian axis.

'This intrusion cleverly produces accommodation for the college, but at the expense of any respect for the neighbourhood.'

Docomomo UK chairman James Dunnett, who has led a vociferous campaign to block the project, blamed 'a relative lack of interest in 1950s' buildings combined with the prestige of the RCA'.

The decision exposed the inadequate protection afforded to modern buildings, he said. 'It seems to count for nothing when there is a large institution with a large building. You can demolish part of a major 20th-century building but you can't touch one timber beam in the roof of a 19th-century terraced house.'

Dunnett ruled out an appeal.

'The only hope is that they won't be able to raise the money to build it, ' he said.

However, Garry Philpott, director of administration at the RCA, denied that the 'ellipse' would damage its context. 'This building not only gives us much-needed space, but it is a fine building for that site, and the planning committee agreed.'

Westminster planners said demolition was justified because 'the replacement building is of outstanding high architectural quality that respects the setting of adjacent buildings and character and appearance of the Knightsbridge Conservation Area.' But they called for design improvements to the roof, the north elevation and the main entrance.

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