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RFAC attacks £500 million 'blot on the landscape'

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The Royal Fine Art Commission has launched an extraordinarily strong attack on a £500 million Broadway Malyan/Zeidler Roberts scheme to build a 116,000m 2office, retail and commercial scheme a stone's throw from Harrods in London.

After seeing the Prudential Assurance proposals for the third time in seven years, it has branded the latest version of the demolish-andrebuild scheme a 'gross, insensitive architectural disaster for London' which needs a fundamental rethink and a change of architect.

But the RFAC's protestations may be too late, since the application is to go before Westminster city council's planning committee tonight (Thursday) with a recommendation for approval.

The huge site in Westminster, known as Knightsbridge Green, has an existing floorspace of 82,000m 2of post-war buildings. Prudential wants to increase the floorspace with residential areas by Broadway Malyan, and a restaurant, health suite and speculative offices by Canadian firm Zeidler Roberts.

RFAC chairman Lord St John of Fawsley said: 'It is a wretched state of affairs that when Britain has some of the finest architects in the world we are apparently unable to emulate the Edwardian achievement of nearly 100 years ago, which in Harrods produced a near-masterpiece of store design, wholly in keeping with and up to the standard of the rich eclectic tradition of London architecture.'

He went on to say that the site was overdeveloped already, in the view of the RFAC, and should be rebuilt to a lower, not a higher, density.

He added that its scale, in one of the 'greatest shopping thoroughfares', was 'wholly inappropriate', and that the Brompton Road elevations were the 'least satisfying part of the architecture' and paid 'no respect to the fine urban grain of the road'.

'Surely London deserves better than this architecturally incoherent building, more suitable to a midwestern town in the United States than to a prominent shopping and commercial centre in one of the great cities of the world, ' he said.

English Heritage, however, has signalled that it is happy with the scheme, and Westminster council, which is satisfied with the applicant's decision not to include affordable housing, is also grudgingly accepting. 'While not perhaps of outstanding architectural quality, it nevertheless has the potential to contribute positively to the townscape of this part of Kensington, ' said the report for the planning committee.

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