Pop quiz: who is the better designer? Hamiltons, a 200-strong, west London-based architect responsible for competent office buildings such as the stone-clad 40 Berkeley Square and a 43storey lipstick-shaped residential tower in south London? Or David Chipperfield, a 200-strong Mies van der Rohe Prize-winning and Stirlingnominated architect internationally lauded for buildings in several countries and currently working on the most important architectural project in Germany?
Whatever your answer, Camden Council can't tell the difference. Its planning committee has decided that Hamiltons is good enough to maintain the quality of a £15 million project in north London from which Chipperfield was dumped (See News on page 9), and has gone so far as to revoke a Section 106 agreement that guaranteed Chipperfield's involvement in the project in favour of developer Dwyer's preferred choice.
It's time that these kinds of value judgements were taken to task. With all due respect to Hamiltons, it claims on its website to be a competent background architect, and has few pretensions about the scale of its artistic achievement. No critic in the world would put it in the same league as Chipperfield.
But the story is multi-faceted. It is now clear that having an architect's name written into a Section 106 agreement carries no weight. It also provides further evidence of a developer using a big-name architect to gain planning permission before dumping it for a cheaper alternative.
Perhaps most sadly, it demonstrates what Chipperfield describes as 'the lack of professional and intellectual solidarity' in the industry. Since our story about Mangera Yvars being dropped from the east London 'mega-mosque' (AJ 05.07.07), several architects have told me their stories of exploitation. Architecture, it seems, is a profession of little mutual respect and courtesy.