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CABE slams Philip Johnson's 'alien'

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The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) has laid into plans by nonagenarian big-name Philip Johnson and Studio BAAD for a £250 million landmark retail and park development in Liverpool. It poured scorn on the architects' scheme for Chavasse Park for being 'alien' to the city centre and suggested that if it went ahead it would make the city fabric worse, rather than better.

CABE wrote to the architects, English Heritage and Liverpool City Council last week after the commission's design review committee inspected plans, complaining that there was 'very little' it could support in the project.

'Most of the problems arise from the brief given to the architects, ' said CABE.

Johnson, who sees the massive Liverpool project as 'a public space for the twenty-first century', was similarly unsuccessful in trying to win over UK critics - including CABE's precursor, the Royal Fine Art Commission - in the late 1980s after he proposed a Houses of Parliament pastiche scheme for London Bridge City (AJ 7.10.87).

But this time the Liverpool plans include a 300m long structural canopy made of glass and ETFE with metal 'scales' covering a retail development based around a series of walkways at different levels, with a rooftop park (AJ 29.6.00).

CABE branded it a 'hermetic self-contained world with little to connect it with the rest of the city', and asserted that the landscaping ideas were misguided. The scheme would also cause a 'fundamental shift in the city's retail centre of gravity' to the detriment of existing areas, the planning was 'inward-looking' and the grain of the scheme was 'quite alien to the nature of the city centre'.

Another concern was that the elements of the scheme which lifted it above the ordinary - the canopy roof, the landscaping, the bridge - were in danger of being 'severely dumbed down' or even left out if funds became scarce.

But Studio BAAD partner Philip Bintliff said the client, the Walton Group, had no intention of scaling down the project - especially the roof - and would not have employed Johnson and Cecil Balmond of Ove Arup if it had.Bintliff added that he had felt encouraged by the process of presenting to CABE and welcomed its views but found some 'difficult to address' and rejected its criticism of the scheme being 'hermetically sealed'. 'We were at g reat pa ins to ge t across the idea that it's a canopy, not a sealed roof, so the breeze will blow through and it will be street-like and more convivial, ' he said.

Bintliff added that the scheme, which was submitted for planning permission on 14 August, will lift the temperature inside by around 3degrees Celsius and has won praise from more important consultees such as English Heritage and local groups.

CABE also commended an office scheme at 77 Victoria Street by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard but suggested that a Section 106 agreement should be linked to planning permission to ensure quality of materials and detailing is maintained.

SOM's outline extension scheme for St Mary's Hospital, however, was criticised for its 'too coarse-grained' approach and its 'impenetrable wall' to the south side of Paddington basin.

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