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New Commonwealth Institute plans: ‘little has changed’ claim objectors


The ‘scaled-down’ proposals for the redevelopment of the 1962 Commonwealth Institute have been met with derision from conservation groups and objectors.

Yesterday Rem Koolhaas’ practice OMA revealed new ‘significantly reduced’ plans for the Grade II*-listed building and surrounding plot in Kensington, west London (see below).

However The Twentieth Century Society, which has been consulted on the scheme for the empty RMJM-designed landmark by developer Chelsfield, have branded the revised proposals ‘a continued misreading of the site, it’s historic importance and it’s context.’

A ‘disappointed’ Jon Wright, a senior caseworker at the Society, said: ‘It would appear though as if little has changed and that they have just shuffled things a little.

‘[The design team] still seeks to demolish the ancillary block, landscaping and much of the interior and build unsympathetic residential blocks next to the former institute.’

He added: ‘These proposals reflect poorly on Chelsfield as a company capable of conservation-led development… [and] they have not submitted a statement of significance or proper conservation statement that highlights the areas of historic importance.’

ACA president Brian Waters, who was appointed alongside architect Bryan Avery by local residents group the Edwardes Square Scarsdale and Abingdon Association, to draw up alternative ‘more sympathetic plans’, agrees.

He said: ‘Having been given an analysis of the plans, I can say the changes are absolutely de minimus.

‘They are only removing one floor and none of the blocks. The new proposals do not desist from wreaking and destroying the interior which is the main thing.

‘But they do seem to have added a bit more restaurant.’

He added: ‘As far as the residents are concerned thee are no material changes which met any of their objections.’

It is understood the rival plans, which are being backed by Hammer Holdings, will be unveiled soon.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s planning committee is scheduled to vote on the OMA proposals on 17 September 2009.

Previous story: 19 August 2009

OMA’s Institute plans ‘significantly reduced’

Rem Koolhaas’ practice OMA has submitted heavily revised proposals for the redevelopment of the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington, West London

The changes, which include a significant reduction in the height of the housing blocks (down from nine storeys in places) and a less dramatic overhaul of the existing 1962 Grade-II* listed building, follow an outcry from conservation groups, criticism from English Heritage and comments from CABE.

Brian Waters, president of the Association of Consultant Architects, who was brought into draw up alternative plans for the RMJM-designed landmark by a local resident group, said the previous ‘development’ plans required too much demolition and were ‘quite unnecessary.’

Developer Chelsfield hopes the changes will find favour with both the authorities and the likes of the Twentieth Century Society, who had also condemned the initial plans.

It has also vowed to pump £20 million towards the cost of relocation of the Design Museum from its current home in Southwark into the main building of the restoration, as well as ‘donating’ the long term lease at a ‘peppercorn’ rental.

Full summary of changes

The sequence of arrival and space disposition has been changed to more closely resemble the existing arrangement with arrival over a bridge on top of a water feature into the building, with a platform giving access by stairs throughout the building. This sequence will be detailed in a further submission by the Design Museum later and retains one of the principal design features of the building.  
Other changes in the building include open floors at all levels and the new openings in the floors have been enlarged. Stairs and lifts have been deferred to the Design Museum’s later fit-out applications.

There have been major revisions to the landscape designs which now provide a park setting and incorporate a water feature and access route, which is similar to the original concept.

The height of the Park, Garden and High Street residential buildings has been significantly reduced and views from the street and park enhanced

The initial application was submitted in April 2009.

Previous story: 29 June 2009

CABE cautious over Koolhaas’ Commonwealth Institute plan

CABE has offered cautious approval for the redevelopment of the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington, West London

The plans by Rem Koolhaas, which were submitted to the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea in April, proposed major alterations to the Grade-II listed building, with the construction of a trio of six to nine-storey buildings and a museum.

The design watchdog supported the proposals to remodel and re-use the existing exhibition pavilion and the general disposition and high quality of the architecture proposed.

However, the review panel had reservations over the ‘detailed geometry of the site layout’ and the treatment of the ground plane, which CABE considered the ‘least successful part of the proposal’. It said: ‘These are not fundamental criticisms, but areas that we think require more detailed resolution before the application is determined.’

CABE also strongly urged the local authority to work with the design team to generate a coordinated new entrance to the park and exhibition pavilion. ‘While we have every confidence in the capability of the design team, we recommend that the local authority should satisfy itself on the quality of the design of the ground plane before the application is determined.’

Local conservation groups previously slammed the original plans by Koolhaas and brought in Brian Waters, president of the Association of Consultant Architects and Bryan Avery to draw up plans for an alternative, more sympathetic scheme which would retain the institute’s function as an exhibition centre.


Readers' comments (2)

  • Why can't people just say what it is ? Fire-up a few London-scene architecture pundits (ie Ricky Burdett) to wax lyrical about the Commonwealth Building, propose a few tweaks to improve it and then whack an enormous amount of housing round the back when nodody's looking. Job done.

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  • Jon is (W)right! Well said! This building, and its landscapeed setting, deserve better. It's about more than a roof.

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