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Martin Pawley frights in the royal borough

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The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea seems to be more oppressed by the prospect of unwanted development these days than for some time past. A few years ago it was the Ismaili Centre that upset the residents. Now two more tedious interventions have come along: the Diana Princess of Wales memorial garden, and Daniel Libeskind's 'New Boilerhouse' v&a extension. In all cases the grounds for opposition have been the same: the wholly understandable fear that the already all-but-intolerable lives of those living near these projects would become a living hell if, through some travesty of natural justice, they were allowed to be built.

If my memory serves me correctly, the exact phrase 'Get us out of this living hell' was chosen 30 years ago by residents on the borough's northern fringe to express their dissatisfaction with the careless way in which the elevated section of the Westway had been built so as to pass within touching distance of their bedroom windows.

Clearly, not all the new works or alterations proposed for the constituency that elected Alan Clark as its mp can honestly be described as 'killing fields' - not even the ill-considered ones that led to the collapse of three expensive Georgian houses in Beauchamp Place last month - but a surprising number of residents would be prepared to use this sort of colourful terminology if they thought anyone would take it seriously. Unfortunately, such gross hyperbole is not easily forgiven or forgotten. Who, for instance, bears a grudge about the 'apocalyptic influx of parking' that threatened to accompany the opening of the Ismaili Centre? Who still smoulders at the 'fire-hose-style water cannon' proposed for the Diana memorial garden? Practically everybody involved. And so will many long remember the 'skull- like protuberance' that is alleged to hang out over the back of Libeskind's Boilerhouse.

The Boilerhouse is different from the others. It makes me think I might have been premature when I complained a few weeks ago about the mealy- mouthed euphemisms architectural criticism had sunk to these days. Why last week even Lord Rogers was castigated by a Times reader for trying to foist upon the Welsh people 'an unnecessary new building which resembles a load of old spheres'.

The thing that worries me about the Boilerhouse is the way it has ignited the enthusiasm of all the philistines. Chaps like Sir Jocelyn, who have spent the last ten years pretending to be art historians parroting on about things being 'in keeping' and 'appropriate', have dropped all that sanctimonious guff at the first sniff of a tourist's Euro, and started making comparisons between the tucked-away-in-Exhibition-Road Boilerhouse and the national rebranding job done by the Sydney Opera House.

It was once said of Daniel Libeskind that he is the only architect to have stepped from the avant garde to the establishment without building a single building. This may no longer be true, but it bears thinking about because one thing the philistines do understand is the power of an idea whose time went a long time ago.

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