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Rogers' British Museum proposals approved at second attempt

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ (RSHP) revised plans for a £135 million extension behind the British Museum were approved by Camden Council last night (17.12.09)

The authority’s planning committee voted nine to three in favour of the re-jigged proposals having previously refused the practice’s initial designs for the redevelopment of the north-western corner of the Grade I-listed London landmark (AJ 24.07.09).

Work could now start as early as next month (January 2010) on the five-pavilion ‘World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre’ development, which was partially sunk underground to address concerns about the impact of the original scheme on the existing building and surrounding conservation area.

A ‘delighted’ spokeswoman for the museum said: ‘[This] building will ensure the British Museum can meet its fundamental obligations of preserving, researching, displaying and lending this unparallelled collection for future generations. [It] will ensure the British Museum remains one of the world’s leading museums, a civic space serving a local, national and international audience.’

It is understood the museum has already secured two thirds of the funding needed to construct the building, which is scheduled to open in 2013.

Previous story (AJ 14.12.09)

Rogers’ revised British Museum plan set for approval

Camden Council’s planning officers have recommended the green light for Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ revised £135 million extension behind the British Museum

However, the latest officer backing for the ‘well-thought out’ scheme to redevelop the north-western corner of the Grade I-listed London landmark is no guarantee the councillors on the authority’s planning committee will also vote to support the proposals (see right for full agenda for meeting scheduled for Thursday, 17 December).

Earlier in the year (July), the elected members unexpectedly decided to reject the practice’s initial attempt, damning its ‘excessive bulk, scale [and] massing’ and claiming it ‘would be harmful to the listed buildings’ and ‘detract from the character and appearance of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area’.

The practice has since revised its scheme, submerging one of the five pavilions to address issues with light into the museum’s Arched Reading Room and increasing the space between each block from 2m to 3m.

CABE and English Heritage have also given their support for the amended designs, though it is understood the Georgian Society, Camden Civic Society and Ancient Monuments Society are among those to have lodged objections.

Previous Story (AJ 26.11.09)

CABE throws weight behind revised British Museum plans

CABE has again backed Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ (RSHP) attempts to build a £135 million extension behind the British Museum in London

The government’s design watchdog praised the practice’s original scheme to redevelop the North Western corner of the Grade I-listed landmark (click here for the first review panel report) before those designs were controversially thrown out by Camden Council’s planning committee in July this year.

Having seen the reworked proposals - featuring five-pavilions, including one which is now underground - the commission said it ‘continued to support the design team’s intelligent response to this difficult brief’.

The panel commented: ‘The relationship between the existing building and the extension has been well resolved; particularly the differences in levels between various parts of both building have been dealt with in a skillful manner to allow seamless circulation of people from the Great Court to the new exhibition spaces.’

However CABE did add a cautionary note and raised concerns about the detailed design of the proposed elevation onto Montague Place, saying: ‘[The] detailed composition of this façade could be improved and we suggest exploring a design which responds more subtly to the massive corner of the existing building and which manages to establish a successful interaction between the tower, the metal clad fin of the proposed main elevation and the solid nature of the King Edward building.’

Click here to read the latest report.

The scheme is expected to come before the council’s planning committee again in mid-December.

Previous story (AJ 24.09.09)

Revealed: Rogers’ new look British Museum extension

This is the first image of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ (RSHP) reworked designs for an extension to the British Museum, London - part of which is now underground

The original proposal (see pictures right) for a £135 million, five-pavilion development behind the Grade I-listed landmark was unexpectedly turned down in July.

RSHP has since come back with amended plans which include sinking one of the pavilions below ground to allow more light into the museum’s Arched Reading room.

Previous story (AJ 17.09.09)

Rogers goes underground with British Museum Mark II

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) has reworked its design for an extension to the British Museum in London after its original proposal (pictured here) was unexpectedly refused in July

The revised scheme has been partially sunk underground in response to concerns that the £135 million, five-pavilion development would block the window into the Grade I-listed landmark’s Arched Reading Room.

The change means 20 per cent of the new central London facility will be submerged.

Spaces between the block have also been widened from 2m to 3m in a bid to appease Camden Council’s planning committee.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: ‘The developments address the issues raised, but do not compromise delivery of the essential facilities necessary to ensure the museum can meet its present and future obligations to the collection and to its visitors.’

But Hero Granger-Taylor, representing Camden Civic Society on the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee, said: ‘I would have been much happier if they had gone to a new architect. A different firm would have helped the museum to look radically at its brief.’

Granger-Taylor added: ‘But I am also relieved we are not going to an inquiry. Although they would have been very unlikely to have won on appeal, it would have been a terrible amount of extra work for us tired-out voluntary bodies.’

A public exhibition of the new proposals, which RSHP hopes to re-submit to Camden Council shortly, will take place at the British Museum’s upper floor, off Room 66, between 25-28 September.

Exact details of the revised plan

- One of the pavilions has been submerged underground, ensuring no impact on the view from the Arched Reading Room and substantially reducing the impact of views from the Bedford Square properties. This architectural response will, in many ways, be beneficial for the scientific research facilities housed in the pavilion, given their need for closely-controlled environments with levels of isolation away from any form of vibration. Large rooflights will ensure that daylight can penetrate into the upper floors of the scientific research facilities. This change means that over 20 per cent of the mass of the facility above ground in the previous application has been submerged.

- The remaining spaces between the above-ground pavilions have been increased in width from 2m to 3m, which, in the case of the three central pavilions means that considerably more day light will be able to reach windows facing on to the new building from the North Range. However, this reduction in width has resulted in a loss of 70m² from the special Exhibitions gallery.

Previous story (AJ 24.07.09)

Shock refusal for Rogers’ British Museum extension

Camden Council has unexpectedly rejected Richard Rogers’ £135 million British Museum extension project

The North Western development of the central London landmark, by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), was turned down by the borough’s planning committee on 23 July by five votes to four – but the exact reasons for the refusal remain unclear.

Speaking during a lengthy debate about the 17,000m² project facing Montagu Place, Lib Dem councillor Paul Braithwaite said:‘We seem to be piggy-backing in an absolutely huge over-development.’

He added: ‘This is over-development in a most dramatic fashion and I will be voting against it.’

The five-pavilion scheme at the rear of the museum had been recommended for approval by planning officers.

However, fellow Lib Dem councillor David Abrahams, who also voted against the application, said the scheme ‘encroached too closely on the existing buildings’.

Lighting in the Grade-I listed museum’s Arched Room was the subject of a protracted discussion with members grilling project architect Graham Stirk who attended the meeting.

‘It would have been an easier decision had RSHP come up with a better facade,’ said Lib Dem councillor Russell Eagling, who voted for the proposal which the practice has been working on since winning a high-profile competition in May 2007.

Meanwhile Hugh Cullen of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee said the proposal ‘frankly mutilates the museum’.

Speaking about the specific grounds for the knock back, Ed Watson, the assistant director for planning and public protection at Camden Council advised the committee that officers would draft full reasons for refusal based on the points members raised when rejecting the scheme.

He said these would have to be brought back to the next committee for agreement prior to the decision being sent.

A statement released by the British Museum confirmed that it would wait until the official justification for the refusal was made clear before deciding on a way forward.

It read: ‘The Committee have not yet provided their formal reasons for refusal and in light of this information we shall consider our next steps as a matter of priority. The need for the benefits the scheme would provide has not gone away.

‘We thought we had made a compelling case which drew a balance between our responsibility to our great buildings, the historic environment, the Museum’s collection and the public benefits that would flow from this scheme. The case was supported by English Heritage and CABE.’

News of the rejection comes just days after doubts emerged over the proposed government funding for the project.

July 5 postcript: Camden Council’s official reasons for refusal

RESOLVED –

THAT planning permission, listed building consent and conservation area consent be refused for the following reasons:-

1.           The proposed development, by virtue of its excessive bulk, scale, massing, site coverage and detailed design, would be harmful to the listed buildings, fail to respect the setting of the listed buildings and would detract from the character and appearance of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area, contrary to policies B1 (General design principles), B3 (Alterations and Extensions), B6 (Listed buildings) and B7 (Conservation areas) of the London Borough of Camden Unitary Development Plan 2006.

2.           The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure pedestrian and environmental improvements, would be likely to contribute unacceptably to use of non-sustainable modes of transport contrary to policy T1 (Sustainable Transport) of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006 and to advice contained in Camden Planning Guidance 2006.

3.           The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure a green travel plan, would be likely to contribute unacceptably to use of non-sustainable modes of transport contrary to policy T1 (Sustainable Transport) of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006 and to advice contained in Camden Planning Guidance 2006.

4.           The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure contributions to carry out associated highways works would be likely to harm the Borough’s transport infrastructure, contrary to policy SD2 (Planning Obligations) of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006 and to advice contained in the Camden Planning Guidance 2006.

5.           The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure submission and implementation of a construction management plan, would be likely to contribute unacceptably to traffic disruption and dangerous situations for pedestrians and other road users, and be detrimental to the amenities of the area generally, contrary to policies T12 (Works Affecting Highways) and SD8B (Disturbance from demolition and construction) of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006 and to advice contained in the Camden Planning Guidance 2006.

6.           The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure submission and implementation of a servicing management plan, would be likely to contribute unacceptably to traffic disruption and dangerous situations for pedestrians and other road users, contrary to policy T12 (Works Affecting Highways) of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006 and to guidance within Camden Planning Guidance 2006.

7.           The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure replacement tree planting on Montague Place would harm the character and appearance of the conservation area and fail to conserve biodiversity in accordance with the requirements of policies B1, B7, N5 and N8 of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006 and the advice contained in Camden Planning Guidance 2006

8.           The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure appropriate biodiversity enhancement measures would fail to enhance biodiversity in the in accordance with the requirements of policy N5 of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006 and the advice contained in Camden Planning Guidance 2006

9.           The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement requiring for the development to achieve a BREEAM rating of ‘very good’ and for the sustainability measures detailed for the north-west development and the site wide energy strategy, would fail to be sustainable in its use of resources, contrary to policy SD9 (Resources and Energy) of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006 and to advice contained in Camden Planning Guidance 2006.

10.      The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure local labour and procurement would fail to contribute towards the creation of local employment and business opportunities which reinforce neighbourhood renewal objectives and improve sustainability of the local economy, contrary to policy SD2 (Planning Obligations) of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006 and to advice contained in the Camden Planning Guidance 2006.

Listed Building Consent:                         2009/1762/L

1.           The proposed alterations to the listed building are considered harmful to its special architectural and historic interest and the merits of the scheme are not considered to outweigh this harm. As such they are contrary to policy B6 (Listed Buildings) of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006.

2.           The proposed development, by virtue of its excessive bulk, scale, massing, site coverage and inappropriate detailed design, would detract from the special architectural and historic importance of the listed building and its setting contrary to policy B6 (Listed buildings) of the London Borough of Camden Unitary Development Plan 2006.

Conservation Area Consent:      2009/1763/C

1.           The demolition of the unlisted buildings, in the absence of an approved scheme for their replacement would be likely to result in harm to the character and appearance of the surrounding Conservation Area contrary to policies B7 (Conservation areas) of the London Borough of Camden Replacement Unitary Development Plan 2006.

Readers' comments (23)

  • A Press Relaese from opposition groups explains certain of the problems. I think that they will be pleased with the decision.

    PRESS RELEASE
    British Museum proposed North West Development: local groups call on English Heritage to withdraw Letter of Advice.

    In a letter sent to the Chief Executive of English Heritage, the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee and the Camden Civic Society have jointly asked English Heritage to withdraw their formal letter of Advice on the subject of the British Museum’s proposed North West development. The letter of Advice, sent 19 June 2009, is addressed to the London Borough of Camden, the relevant planning authority. The architects are Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners and the application is registered at Camden as 2009/1762/L and 2009/1760/P.

    The application is due to come before Camden’s Development Control Committee on 23rd July. The Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee and the Camden Civic Society have both already registered very strong objections to the proposed development with Camden.

    The two local organisations believe that the Advice contained in English Heritage’s letter is so unbalanced and superficial that it does not carry full legal weight. More precisely, they consider that English Heritage has not abided by its statutory obligation “to secure the preservation of ancient monuments and historic buildings situated in England” (section 32 of the National Heritage Act 1983).

    An earlier Director of the British Museum, Dr.Robert Anderson, wrote in c.1997: "The British Museum’s majestic building is known throughout the world, and has become an international symbol of a museum. As the finest example of nineteenth century Greek Revival architecture in the country, it is itself an important part of the national heritage" (from the pamphlet The British Museum 2003: Celebrating 250 Years, p.10), The Bloomsbury CAAC and the Camden Civic Society fully agree with this assessment of the significance of the Museum’s buildings.

    But English Heritage’s Advice gives no hint that historic architecture of such importance is being considered. Instead, English Heritage praises the new extension: “It is our view that the proposed new build element of the scheme has the potential to provide a first class architectural response to the surrounding Museum context and to the Bloomsbury Conservation Area.”

    The Bloomsbury CAAC and the Camden Civic Society have also sent English Heritage a detailed document refuting English Heritage’s Advice point by point. At the heart of their criticism is the failure of the Advice to weigh the Museum’s stated needs against the requirement to preserve the historic buildings.

    The letter of the Bloomsbury CAAC and Camden Civic Society to English Heritage concludes by stating that, if English Heritage is not able to act independently and responsibly, the Bloomsbury CAAC and the Camden Civic Society will actively petition the Government to return the Policy and Advice responsibilities of English Heritage to direct Ministerial control.

    Other objectors to the British Museum application include the Georgian Group, Save Britain’s Heritage and the Ancient Monuments Society

    Additional Information

    The letter from the Bloomsbury CAAC and Camden Civic Society to English Heritage suggests three factors which may have affected English Heritage’s Advice:

    a) A possible failure to fully appreciate the effect of the designs from the drawings and other documents supplied. English Heritage’s officers may not have understood fully how damaging the proposed scheme will be to the existing buildings.

    b) A desire to promote modern architecture. We have no evidence that it has ever been English Heritage’s duty to promote modern schemes of this kind, but English Heritage in recent years appears increasingly to have been doing so.

    c) Possible outside influence. The Bloomsbury CAAC and the Camden Civic Society wonder whether it is possible that English Heritage might have been subject to undue outside influence. They note that the tone of the public statements made by English Heritage on the British Museum scheme has varied considerably over the last twenty-one months. The formal letter of Advice is the most strongly supportive of the scheme among the statements made by English Heritage to date.

    The discussion of the scheme at the last meeting of English Heritage’s London Advisory Committee, on 20 March this year, has been blocked from publication as “potentially exempt from public access under the Freedom of Information Act Section 36: prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs”. The Camden Civic Society has written separately to English Heritage formally to request to see the relevant written record.

    The formal objections to the application by the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee and the Camden Civic Society focus on three aspects of the proposal:

    i) the way in which the proposal will block daylight and sunlight from the existing buildings on the North West of the site, at the same time cutting off views of the exteriors of these buildings and obscuring views from inside them. The new extension, which will be as tall as the existing Museum buildings, will in many places be only 2 m away, and only 5 m away from the rear of houses on the east side of Bedford Square. Among the Museum’s interiors, the most badly affected will be Sir Robert Smirke’s Arched Room (1839), an astonishing triple-height library room, perfectly preserved. The scheme will also have a seriously negative effect on the North Stair of J.J.Burnet’s King Edward VII building, one of the grandest stairs in any London interior.

    ii) the punching through of three new openings in the base of the magnificent North elevation of Smirke’s Great Court, designed in 1823 and restored as recently as 2000, the restoration work paid for by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. These proposed openings are without any sort of architectural or historical precedent.

    iii) the demolition of two brick houses on Montague Place, facsimiles built to the design of James Burton and typical of Georgian Bloomsbury, and their replacement by a flank elevation of one of the “pavilions” of the new extension, in materials alien to the character of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area.

    Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee c/o 44 Kings Terrace London NW1OJR

    Camden Civic Society, c/o 32 Hillway, N6 6HJ

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  • PRESS STATEMENT BY BCAAC 24 th July

    The Bloomsbury Conservation Advisory Committee is extremely relieved that the Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners proposal for the extension to the British Museum has been refused planning permission. The decision was reached late last night after an exhaustive two and a half hour debate during which our concerns were aired. Camden’s Planning Committee members showed a very thorough understanding of the great damage which would be caused to the Conservation Area and the Museum’s outstanding Grade I listed buildings if the proposal were to go ahead. We were also heartened by the level of concern and objection registered by conservation organisations and prominent individuals. The Georgian Group, Save Britain’s Heritage, the Ancient Monuments Society, Heritage of London Trust and The London Society all opposed the scheme and objections from distinguished individuals included:

    Prof David Watkin, University of Cambridge, who wrote “This proposed extension… would wreak great damage to the British Museum, a world-famous, listed, classical icon…The scheme flouts deliberately and necessarily all the hard won principles of how to insert new work in the context of listed buildings and conservation areas.” (20.7.09, Written Representation to Camden Council)


    Prof David Walker, formerly St Andrew’s University, who concentrated on the poor quality of advice from English Heritage which,

    he stated: “takes absolutely no account of the importance of Smirke’s museum which is the greatest monument of the neo-Greek in Britain…or of the Edward VII Galleries which in many people’s view…is the finest piece of classicism built in Britain in the Early 20th century… The statement that the new pavilions would sit comfortably within the existing principle(sic!) buildings is outrageous…I am amazed that English Heritage neither recognise the importance of the architecture, nor the cost of so recently restoring it to its original perfection, wholly met out of public funds.” (2.7.09, Written Representation to Camden Council)


    At the local level opposition was led by the Bloomsbury Conservation Area Advisory Committee and the Camden Civic Society. These two bodies wrote jointly on 14 July to the Chief Executive of English Heritage requesting that they withdraw their formal Letter of Advice to Camden Council. To date, we have received no answer from English Heritage.

    The BCAAC’s major areas of concern were the gross overdevelopment the proposal entailed and the impact this would have had on the existing Museum buildings.


    It would have entombed the wonderful Grade I listed Arched Reading Room by completely surrounding it with five storey buildings leaving only a deep slot two metres wide between the old building and the new. This would have almost totally blocked out the natural north and west light to the Arched Reading Room.


    The proposal would also have mutilated the newly restored North Facade of the courtyard by punching holes in its base.


    Finally the proposal would have demolished the existing brick buildings at the end of Malet Street (in the scale and style of Georgian Bloomsbury) and replaced them with an inappropriate steel and glass façade.


    24/7/09

    BLOOMSBURY CONSERVATION AREA ADVISORY COMMITTEE

    c/o Hugh Cullum Architects

    61B Judd Street

    London WC1H 9QT

    Tel 020 7383 7647 / 07775 582 821

    Fax 020 7387 7645

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  • This is certainly an awful project, as dull as ditchwater, that gives nothing to the street other than a service entrance for vehicles. There are many talents in the Rogers Stirk Harbour practice, but clearly the best ones did not influence this particular project.

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  • Questions should be asked of the planners who recommended approval despite the obvious harm this would do to the existing important building, and the fact the architecture of the new was clearly not an enhancement, but serious questions alsoneed to be raised about why English Heritage supported this.


    Prof. David Walker is a former Chief Inspector of Historic Buildings for Historic Scotland. His expert opinion should be read and digested by all involved at EH.

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  • Re-arranging the deckchairs isn't going to do it. Another architect might have come up with something better.

    The existing building is important, and should be respected.

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  • I think when a designer push his landmark too much rather than respond to the context, he will fail. Rogers is one of my favourates but he needs to look at how I.M.Pei excutes various projects in various contexts in various countries, otherwise his practise would soon disappear after he truly retire or quit.

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  • I meant "trade mark"!

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  • Hero Grainger-Taylor is a woman so you should amend your 7th parag to "she said"!

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  • Can someone fire the BCAAC into space ? I'm doing a little housing scheme south of Euston Road and already they are sticking their ill-informed noses in. It transpires a big-wig in the BCAAC lives diagonally opposite the site and surprise surprise, he was the one leading the little delegation against my project. They have written to my client recommending a sensitive ' local' architect more suitable to such a sensitive site - I discover the practitioner concerned has also done a conservatory on a property diagonally opposite my site ! In New York this would be called corruption - why do we put up with it London ?

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  • Try being a better architect and stop whining.

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  • The BCAAC is full of well-informed and qualified people; also, this country is a democracy. Suggesting (diplomatically) your scheme is basically appalling and that a decent architect should be hired instead, is not corruption, simply common sense.

    Why in this country do we have to put up with so many dreadful developments?

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  • Let's be honest here, the BCAAC attracts numerous 'qualified' people who are only known in their respective professions because of their sheer tedious longevity - not by talent or ability. They become intoxicated by the power these tin-pot quangos give them. They believe they know best. They are afraid of anything that is brave or good because it upsets their narrow blinkered take on the world and heightens their own individual personal failure or lack of career advancement. The air is tinged with the acrid taste of bitterness when BCAAC members meet to pore scorn, Animal Farm style on the next unsuspecting project. O were we to be completely rid of them.

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  • Except it isn't a QUANGO, so wrong there, and any comments made are not statutory and binding. Anyone can comment on a planning application and many do.

    Actually, many members are highly qualified professionals who are skilled and respected in their various fields.

    Presumably you don't ever bother to read the careful, informed comments made by them on planning applications, or if you do you are not able to understand.

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  • Good for the British Museum putting in again for its lovely extension. What an absurd decision to have refused it planning permission the first. I love the museum's big new exhibitions and I can't believe anyone can be so mad as to try and stop them

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  • No-one is trying to stop any exhibitions though are they? Or the museum extending. However, spoling the existing important building should not be the result.

    Are museum collections to be treasured and conserved yet the buildings housing them not be, even when as important and historic as this one?

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  • I wentr along to the exhibition about the plans and had a long talk with one of the architects. I was really impressed about the amount of thought that has gone into everything, and I think the new plans are even better than the last. Let us hope common sense prevails this time.

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  • I also know people who have looked at the plans and say they still aren't good.

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  • So the damage to the existing building is OK then?

    Let's hope this is refused, or called in.

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  • A very bad decision. Nothing really has altered regarding the damage to be caused to the existing. Apprently that's OK?

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  • I'm a french architect who has set up his practice in London and am tired of hearing the same old complaints and stories about new architecture and the "damage" it does to other buildings. The best buildings in the world have allways changed, altered, adjusted public and private place. What can one expect from change? that it responds to a brief.
    British are conservative to the bones and that's where the problem lies.
    United Kingdom hasn't had its own "revolution anglaise" and can't see ahead.
    D.Hingamp.

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