Words of encouragement but Royal London still lacks visionary drive
So you really can design by committee. CABE's latest report on the Royal London Hospital shows a process of stick and carrot that is slowly pulling the project towards a state that CABE considers acceptable. 'It is to the considerable credit of the Trust, Skanska and HOK that they persevere with consultation and continue to seek ways of improving the design, ' writes Ben van Bruggen, CABE's senior design review advisor to Nick Parker at Skanska. The encouragement continues with praise for improvements to the ground plane achieved through the creation of a new civic square and significant entrances. Internal reorganisations 'will greatly assist access and wayfinding'. There are hints of trouble ahead but with CABE on side: 'Clearly the case needs to be made for the demolition and alteration of the existing listed buildings? we think that it should be possible to make this case successfully.' And then comes the sting in the tail: 'In terms of the new buildings, we are still disappointed that they have not moved on architecturally in the same way as the ground plan? In our opinion, the use of layering and modelling, rather than colour and shade, would give the buildings greater simplicity and thus clarity.' CABE's design review committee is evidently prepared to work hard to pull back a project, that it saw as entirely unacceptable, to a level at which it will serve its users well and produce a group of buildings of which the city need not be ashamed.
The insight is fascinating, and the rescue operation valuable, but will this ever create great buildings?
What a contrast this approach is with the Hoyle Early Years Centre, an education building that won the small buildings prize for DSDHA at the British Construction Industry Awards. Head teacher Clare Barker cajoled, bullied and slogged to get the building she wanted, a fantastic achievement in another field of building too often dominated by the dead hand of PFI. But Hoyle is a mere minnow compared with a whale like the Royal London Hospital. If those huge projects could be driven with the same kind of single-minded vision, there might be less for CABE to do, but a happier result for all.