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Adam defends Athlone House vision, as plans derail again

Architect Robert Adam has defended controversial proposals to demolish Athlone House in Highgate and replace it with a new mega-mansion, after plans for the site were thwarted for a second time

Robert Adam’s practice Adam Architecture submitted a new application to flatten the Victorian villa and build a new, classically inspired eight-bedroom mansion complete with indoor swimming pool late last year.

Earlier proposals for a much-larger scheme were rejected by the planning inspectorate three years ago.

But the reworked designs have suffered a similar fate and were effectively thrown out by Camden Council earlier this month.

Both proposals were vociferously opposed by residents, local politicians, David Chipperfield and Monty Python star Terry Gilliam. The scheme also attracted 5,470 official objections.

In response Adam, who has already launched a second appeal, said: ‘A lot of the fuss over Athlone House is because the previous owner of the site signed a section 106 agreement and then sold the site on.

‘The local community were not happy the local authority was slack in not enforcing the section 106 when the new owner came on board.

He added: ‘[Yet] essentially the outcome of the first appeal was that it was OK to demolish the house. That pulled the rug out from under the feet of people who said the building had to be restored. That horse has left the stable. That is a done deal.’

‘The inspector also [concluded]…the original design was OK, it was just too big. It caused a problem with regards to the loss of open metropolitan land. We’ve done enough to allay the original objections to the scheme.’

Explaining the design Adam said: ‘‘I based it on four strong cubic corners very specifically to relate to some of the varied roofscape of the design concept. We have reduced the roof quite substantially, I can’t just chop the domes off. Whether you like it or not the design has a design integrity.

‘We have taken a substantial amount of accommodation off of the building, the only thing left is to put into a photocopier and make it 95 per cent of the size.’

The firm’s original plans for a grand new home in place of the north London landmark House were refused by Camden Council in April 2010 due, in part, to their ‘inappropriate and intrusive bulk, form, design and materials [ which would have] harmed the character and appearance of the Highgate conservation area and street scene’.

An appeal of the Camden Council’s decision was dismissed by the planning inspectorate in 2011.

It has been called a fake Downton Abbey

Speaking about the earlier appeal Adams said: ‘Rolled in with all the complaints are the objections to the design. It has been called a fake Downton Abbey.

‘Of course in Hampstead and Highgate you have a lot of intelligent people who are quite prepared to voice their opinion in an articulate way.’

‘There is nothing I can do about that. Every architect has people who do not like what they do. If my design was to be compared with that Highclere Castle [the original Downton Abbey] is something which I would take as a compliment. I quite like it.’

The new designs, which were submitted in November 2013, show a redesigned version of the new home of which parts have been reduced in size and height and proposed courtyard wings scrapped.

Though smaller, the new plans would still be approximately 60 per cent larger than the existing building.

Speaking about the developments Kathy Clark, conservation adviser, at the Victorian Society said: ‘The Victorian Society is pleased that Camden Council has continued to listen to the public’s view and has refused consent to demolish Athlone House.

‘We strongly object to the proposals as Athlone House’s demolition and redevelopment would have a substantial negative impact on the character of the Highgate conservation area. The house, as a rare surviving example of a large merchant’s house in suburban inner London, makes a very significant contribution to the conservation area.’

Athlone House, which was previously known as the Caenwood Towers, was designed by Edward Salomons and John Philpot was originally built for Edward Brooke in 1872 in a Victorian style.

The house was bought by the Ministry of Health in 1951 and formed part of the Middlesex Hospital. The hospital closed in 2003 and the site was sold to Dwyer Investments.

In 2005 Camden Council gave developers permission to build flats within the grounds as long as the house was renovated within 42 months of work starting on the flats.

Chipperfield was among the architects who were bought on to design the flats and also provide plans to renovate the Victorian building.

However he was fired by developers shortly after the plans were granted permission and the renovations were never started (see AJ 12.08.2007).

The owners have since argued that the costs of renovation are not realistic, citing that planning inspectors agreed that the house could be replaced ‘if a proposal was of high architectural design’. Camden Council has argued that due to this decision it cannot enforce the restoration order on the house.

Readers' comments (2)

  • A rich person wants to trample on our heritage of interesting buildings, built when architects took the time to be decorative, inventive and please the eye. Surely no-on can think the proposed building 'pleases the eye'! Mussolini would probably have liked it, though. I don't live nearby but have studied other photographs on the net. I note your illustration of the past makes it look as if it is from another world...whereas on the net you see photos of how it looks today ...a drawable building. Maybe that should be an architects criterion... might one enjoy drawing it? A resounding YES to the old one and a resounding NO to the new proposal.
    I see 'More than 5,000 people formally objected to the plans in what is thought to be a record-smashing number.'
    Not surprising. It would be nice to see AR have some opinion...but I guess architects tend to protect their backs for fear of drawing fire themselves!

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Is it missing a bigger dome over a courtyard in the middle or something ?

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