When the BBC first unveiled its development plans it looked as though it was about to become one of the great architectural patrons of the 21st century. Here was a client grown-up enough for MacCormac; youthful enough for Foreign Office; and clever enough for Chipperfield. And here, too, was an organisation sufficiently enlightened to grasp the branding potential of great architecture, and to make a direct causal connection between the quality of its buildings and the creativity of its staff.
The latest twist in the BBC's fall from grace, the demise of its relationship with Richard MacCormac, is clear evidence that it has lost its nerve. The corporation's reputation for aligning itself with serious architects is in tatters. A relationship that was announced with great fanfare has turned into a public relations fiasco.
And it is far from clear whether the BBC has remained loyal to the notion that the right kind of workspace will eventually repay itself by making a positive impact on staff productivity and well-being. The break-out spaces that were designed to nurture the cross-fertilisation of ideas have been value-engineered out of existence.
Staff morale, incidentally, cannot have been improved by the fact that many BBC employees first became aware of the latest turn of events when it was reported in the press.
The letter to the AJ from the BBC's chief operating officer this week (page 24) purports to 'reassure readers' by pointing out that the project is not too far over budget and only a little off course. Conspicuous by its absence is any expression of commitment to its architects; to the integrity of the buildings that are currently under construction; or, indeed, any mention of design quality at all. To deliver an ambitious building programme on time and on budget is a remarkable achievement. But there is little glory in sacrificing ambition to satisfy the criteria of timescale and cost.