Scene: Westminster City Council. Agenda item: A vote for the sale of a prime site in Pimlico. Proposer: 'We've got to face economic facts. This borough is in no position to finance day-dreams.' Opposer, in favour of using the site for the children of the local community: 'Don't you ever think of anything more important than pounds, shillings and pence?' Vote: In favour of selling. copyright T E B Clarke, scriptwriter, Passport to Pimlico, Ealing Films 1948.
The current wrangling over the future of Pimlico School was enacted in a previous, cinematic, life more than half a century ago. Though the architecture of Stanley Holloway's model for a playground, swings, pavilion and swimming pool was in a decorative moderne style (outrageously fashionable once again), and Pimlico School is built like the proverbial concrete ablutions house, the issue is the same. Should public land be irrevocably relinquished into private hands to alleviate the economic problems of a local authority?
The architecture of Pimlico School, in its uncompromising difference from its jerry-built Victorian surroundings, declares its serious intent about as loudly as it can. This is not a building to be cajoled or converted out of its public use: like those stubborn passport-holders of 1948, the only way it can be shifted is to be bombed out of existence. It is this declaration of seriousness and permanence that those whose principles are built on more shifting sands find uncomfortable. But the expectation society has of education speaks through architecture - not just to pupils and staff, but to the world at large.
If education is supposed to be at the top of the government's agenda, how can we accept the demolition of a purpose-built educational institution and its replacement by an adjunct to a private property deal?