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RIBA debate on the South Bank garden developments

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Chairing the debate hosted by the riba, Paul Finch castigated critics of the latest South Bank Centre masterplan for negative 'nit-picking'. Tracing the troubled history of the site through projects by Terry Farrell and Richard Rogers, he praised the latest project by Rick Mather, with landscaping of Jubilee Gardens by the Dutchlandscape architect Adriaan Geuze, for offering a realistic programme of implementation, as well as successfully solving the well-aired problem of the 'ground condition'. And, for the first time, for achieving a proper separation between service vehicles and people.

Mather's presentation did not elaborate on the latest brief from the South Bank Centre and the British Film Institute. The key point of departure between Mather's scheme and previous schemes - an enormous injection of new development underneath an enlarged and redesigned existing Jubilee Gardens, extending across the present Hungerford car-park site - gradually emerged through his computer-animated walkthrough of the site. His presentation provoked an angry response from a spokesperson for the Waterloo community group who pointed out that the garden area, designated Metropolitan Open Land, has the same status as green belt land. He ridiculed the suggestion that the redesign of Jubilee Gardens as a sloping terrain, rising to a level of three storeys on the south side, has any real purpose in terms of maximising 'spectacular views of the river'. He also drew attention to the existing double row of plane trees along the river edge, which, he believes, effectively obstructs all views from the site, but has been omitted from the drawings. The subterranean development and the two new landmark buildings at the 'gateways' to the site, have been justified on the grounds that they 'contribute financially to the overall development of the site'; but local people want to know 'how much development does the South Bank Centre need,' and claim 'the plan is vastly in excess of what the brief asked for', in any case.

While the new garden doubles the existing amount of open space on the site, locals suggest 'it's just a forecourt to a commercial development'. And as even developer Roger Zogolovitch pointed out, a roof garden is not the same as a park. According to Geuze, however, winner of the Jubilee Gardens redesign competition, the sloping terrain has the potential to create an illusionary landscape with a varied microtopography in the best tradition of 'the heritage of city parks in London', which can offer a dramatic skyline on the river. A scheme on this scale can never hope to satisfy all parties, and the South Bank has become a much-contested site over the years. Ironically, the 'temporary' British Airways London Eye, aka the Millennium Wheel, outside the masterplan, may turn out to be the most significant factor in the transformation of this area.

Rick Mather and Adriaan Geuze presented the South Bank Masterplan Lecture, chaired by Paul Finch, at the riba

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