The Architects' Journal welcomes your letters, which should preferably be typed double-spaced. Please address them to the editor at 151 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4GB, fax them on 020 7505 6701, or e-mail them to Victorian@ construct.emap.co.uk to arrive by 10am on the Monday before publication. Letters intended for publication should include a daytime telephone number. The editor reserves the right to shorten letters.
South Bank belongs to people not commerce
It seems to have been overlooked that the South Bank and its arts buildings belongs to the people of London. Thatcher's beheading of the Greater London Council in her emulation of Wonderland's Red Queen will shortly be undone with the restoration of London government. Hopefully this new mayor will take an active interest in the renaissance of this, the most prestigious of all lcc/glc creations. Then maybe the South Bank Board will be assimilated or wound up.
The severest critics would not deny that Mather's comprehensive approach is long overdue. However in details some of his proposals, and possibly his brief, are flawed.
The general impression is that he has been enjoined to satisfy the current English 'trivial pursuits' of shopping (remember Napoleon's nation of shopkeepers) and eating (despite our growing obesity). Adequate shops and restaurants will once again flourish along neighbouring York Road. Together with eating places already existing on the site and in the immediate vicinity it is difficult to see the need for a further massive provision of either.
Emma Winkley's excellent letter (aj 20.4.00) 'Protecting open spaces is hardly nit-picking' demands a follow-up.
To build on the Jubilee Gardens, which Mather proposes to transform into a rooftop 'landscaped park', is surely unacceptable. Bleeder Road would become another shopping street, the present simple green leading directly to the tree-lined embankment walk would disappear, and the view of County Hall and the BA Millennium Eye would be truncated. The replacement park, small in scale, shows an imperfect understanding of the civic qualities of the great London parks and is more appropriate to a gentleman's seat in the country.
I have yet to hear a convincing reason for sweeping away the raised walkway link between the Royal Festival Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery complex. Both components were designed for entry at this level; the rfh also functions satisfactorily thus. Views beyond this site across the river and southwards over London are fascinating. Its breadth and extent permit such activities as al fresco eating and informal exhibitions; entry from Waterloo Bridge is natural and pleasant. Additional but minor entrances to the Hayward Gallery and qeh at ground level are simple to achieve; other uses proposed by Mather at this level are equally possible.
Where are the booksellers under Waterloo Bridge and the boys with their skateboards? Both give some of us delight and enrich out visits to the South Bank - maybe their presence is not appropriate to the commercialism and high art.
Why has the Hayward Gallery and QEH complex not been listed? In quality and importance it is equal to, or surpasses, many buildings which have been given such distinction. Could it be such protection would inhibit alteration and destruction and be inconvenient? The recent clamour to list Patrick Hodgkinson's Brunswick Centre to 'save' it from such a fate is a not inappropriate parallel.
It is difficult to find anything to commend the 'blade' building sandwiched between the Hayward and Waterloo Bridge either in planning terms or as a hotel. The 'blade' on the south face of the railway accommodating the British Film Institute is more understandable but why another performance hall?
As for the expansion so desired by the Arts Council and Hayward Gallery ... what about an out of town arts centre? The De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill is crying out for a new suitable user. Or the South Bank Centre could hand the rfh over to a brewer. There are already plenty of stalls in the temple. A few brass lanterns outside and shelves of old books would liven the place up.
John Bancroft, Sussex
New SFA/99 will only confuse the lawyers
Paul Hyett has drawn attention to some serious weaknesses in the new architects' standard form of agreement, sfa/99 (aj 20.4.00).
Some further embarrassing mistakes by the authors include categorisation (under Side B of the Services Supplement) of 'tender and construction activities' as 'work stages A-G' (Think about it!). Page 9 includes new Work Stage D heading 'Detailed Droposals' (sic).
Finally, I question the wisdom of the retitle for Stage E, which is now headed, 'Final Proposals', whereas it was previously 'Detail Design' under sfa/92.
As Hyett says, all delightfully confusing for the lawyers.
David Etheridge, London EC1
Chunky PVCu no patch on real timber frame
Nice puff for Sheerframe PVCu products in Mary Whittaker's article in aj Focus this month (Theme: Doors and Windows) but there are a few failures of logic and fact that ought to be pointed out to your discerning readership, based on the findings of English Heritage's Framing Opinions campaign.
You will not find many real 'traditional' sash windows as chunky as those shown in the photograph. While it is true that there are many pvcu window systems that are more bloated in frame sections, the problem for all plastic fabricators is that pvcu has a lower coefficient of stiffness compared to timber and has to be beefed up or reinforced in dimensions accordingly.
Then there are still the aesthetic problems with stick-on glazing bars and top-rail vents which again are never to be found in real windows.
Finally, Whittaker quotes Sharon Lister as claiming that her new windows will never have to be painted or patched. Some hope! Who sold her these lines? Readers should note the fine print in the British and European Standards' background documents on weathering durability for pvcu materials and be aware that ici-Dulux (the world's number two paint manufacturer) does not bring out a pvc paint coating for plastic windows unless there is a commercial requirement for repainting plastic frames. With guarantees on double glazing being reduced to 10 years, mastics failing in 5-7 years and gaskets failing in 15 years, who dares claim plastic windows now are low maintenance or maintenance free?
John Fidler, head of building conservation & research, English Heritage
No real consultation over Castle House
At the last meeting between residents and the developers of Castle House (AJ 30.3.00), the developers assured us that they were in full consultation with each of the three consortia vying for the Elephant and Castle regeneration project. However, in a recent conversation with Ian Jolly of hta Architects, Jolly confirmed that the practice had not seen sketches or received plans from Assael Architect. On behalf of the Southwark Land Regeneration Team, Jolly expressed concern at the prospect of a planning application being submitted before a consortium is chosen by Southwark on 21 June 2000.
We were hoping to query the Castle House team last Tuesday regarding the progress of their scheme - it would have been a positive gesture on the developers' behalf for the community to see the incorporation of the feedback that we the residents have provided over the past three meetings (the developers had offered to return on 11 April 2000 to table their revised plans).
However they failed to keep their word. They cancelled at the eleventh hour (the cancellation was received at 17.35 on the day of the meeting). This caused great inconvenience not only to the residents of the estate - but also the Draper Residents' Action Trust (drat), which had to advise all other interested parties that had hoped to attend. This was also to the disappointment of not only a number of Southwark residents but indeed local politicians, members of the Regeneration Consortia, save Britain's Heritage and the Twentieth Century Society (that have all joined the drat team in their campaign to have the Draper Estate listed). A meeting was held nonetheless. The absence of the developers only reconfirmed their apparent lack of respect for the local people.
Graham Neale, for and on behalf of Draper Residents' Action Team, Elephant and Castle, London
Independent review of Scottish Parliament
In his piece on the Scottish Parliament (aj 13.4.00), David Black observes that the objectivity of my review has been questioned, by whom he does not say, on the basis that it was written by 'Reiach and Hall's John Spencely', a practice which was, as he correctly reports, involved in competing for the project.
I retired from Reiach and Hall on 31 July 1999.
John D Spencely, Edinburgh
Sexist advertising has no place in the AJ ...
I was surprised and dismayed to see on the back cover of the aj (6.4.00) an advertisement for the Carpet Foundation which features a naked woman and the slogan 'high performance for the figure conscious'. I find the image offensive and totally inappropriate.
The riba and the architectural profession in general are trying very hard to attract more women into the profession and this is exactly the kind of image that reinforces the old stereotype of the construction industry's attitude to women.
The fact that a respected journal like the aj, with a justified reputation for being at the forefront of current thinking, should condone such an outdated attitude is most unhelpful and disappointing.
A similar advertisement featuring female nudity appeared last year in Building Design and the Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaints made by several readers. The advertiser and publisher apologised, the advertisement was withdrawn and a replacement was issued.
I hope you will carefully consider the implications for carrying such an advertisement in future.
Mary Wrenn, director, Royal Society of Architects in Wales, Cardiff
... and will discourage women architects
We found the advertisement at the back of your journal (aj 6.4.00) to be both sexist and degrading.
The architectural profession has only a minority of women architects and with advertisements like this is it any wonder?
I think you should apologise to your readers before you start losing them.