It is not often that an architect writes to a journalist to thank them for a piece that they have written. Even less frequently does it happen when the journalist's article was largely critical. But this is what Terry Farrell did after Rowan Moore wrote a piece in the Evening Standard on 28 November 2000 about his practice's designs for the Home Office building at Marsham Street in London's Westminster.
'It is decent, responsible and careful, ' Moore wrote, 'but in its patent anxiety not to emulate the infamous three slabs, this restrained design goes too far. The official perspective view seems to be auditioning for a part in one of Martin Parr's books of Boring Postcards.' And Farrell's response? 'I thought he was right, ' he said. 'The project had a long and tortured history and as a result I didn't quite believe it was going to come off.' After reading Moore's article, Farrell realised that something had to be done about the building, and eventually came up with the strategy that resulted in his collaboration with Gillick.
But how did Farrell get to this state in the first place? As a result of the tangled history of the project, he went through years of uncertainty before his consortium was selected in preference to the Stanhope alternative with MacCormac Jamieson Prichard. 'We were told that our scheme was much more efficient, ' said Farrell, 'with a better gross-to-net ratio.' Having pared everything down to the bone, and not quite believing that the project would go ahead, he was not really surprised to read Moore's criticism that the project lacked excitement. 'It was a pretty basic scheme, ' he said.
Farrell went back to Bouygues to say that he felt that it should spend more on the project, but was told that if this happened then the underbidder would be entitled to re-tender.
Thinking around the problem, and after consultation with CABE, he came up with the idea of applying to the Department for Culture, Median and Sport (DCMS) to increase the amount of money in the budget available for art.
He had identified certain areas of the building where he felt that an artist could have an impact, such as the canopy, balustrade and spandrel panels, and where the artist's work would be replacing existing elements, so reducing the additional cost.
Working together, Farrell and the DCMS appointed Gillick, who Farrell sees as a particularly fortunate choice. 'He said that philosophically he believed in working with everyday things - in how you shifted the potential of the ordinary.' This was exactly what Farrell wanted - somebody whose work would be entirely integrated in the building.
There were still hurdles to overcome, not least the fact that the money did not go very far since, under the PFI process, each of Gillick's interventions had to be costed against its entire lifespan, including maintenance costs. But he is confident that the end result was worth all the pain of the gestation, which is why he wrote a letter of gratitude to Moore. 'I wrote to him and said: 'You gave me the ammunition'.' Ruth Slavid