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the ones that got away

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Astragal's new competition will feature schemes that, for better or worse, stayed on the drawing board. Can you identify this project and its architect? Post your entry, to arrive by first thing Monday morning, to AJ Astragal , 151 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4GB, or fax 020 7505 6701. The first correct entry to be pulled out of the hat wins a bottle of champagne.

The winner of the final Ring the Changes of 2003 was Florence Jones of Wycombe.

Wind of change So far they haven't had much publicity, but environmental engineer Battle McCarthy has pulled off a real coup in relation to the SOM/Libeskind Freedom Tower project to replace the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Its proposal for a wind 'chimney' running through the mega-tower, despite early scepticism on the part of developer Larry Silverstein, is a full part of the design unveiled before Christmas. 'Battle McCarthy puts wind up Manhattan' would be Astragal's headline to mark the design, which incorporates a wind turbine set to generate a certain amount of electricity on the project. This is not the only stateside project the firm is involved in: working with K P F on a new stadium for the New York Jets, BM has come up with a zero-energy strategy that, among other things, means parking facilities are more or less non-existent in the proposal. Crikey!

Jinxed imperial Despite the smiles at the unveiling of the Freedom Tower, the weeks prior were fraught, with two architectural teams jockeying for position as the final design emerged. David Childs o f S O M wanted a 1,600ft office building, plus mast; Libeskind held out for 1,450. Eventually 1,500 was agreed. I am quoting these heights in imperial measures because that is what they have been designed in. Early BBC coverage of the tower design described its height as '538 metres', thereby missing the symbolic significance of its height being 1,776ft, ie commemorating America's independence. Oh well, metrication freaks never did have much of a sense of humour.

Or history.

Battle of the SOM Oh to have been a fly on the wall in the offices of SOM on the night of 4 December. Libeskind Studio staff, who had been working on the joint project, tried to take photos of the latest model and get their hands on computer renderings of the SOM designs, leading to an unseemly row which was reported in the New York Post under the headline 'Madhouse; Ground Zero designers at war'. In the ensuing battle of the design's final form, honours appear to have been about even. The spirit of Libeskind's original competition-winning proposal is evident in the David Childs scheme, but there is little doubt that the basic form of the building is as SOM intended. Watching the design evolution will be interesting; no doubt Larry Silverstein will end up banging the table and shouting at the architects (again) somewhere along the way.

Home front Is PFI going to emerge as the procurement form of choice for affordable housing in the South East? There is scant mention of it in the review on housing by Kate Barker submitted to government before Christmas, with the full report still to come. Rather simple-mindedly, Barker blames the dearth of such housing on rigid planning regimes and the failure of the housebuilding sector to get involved. But these explanations are deeply flawed. Government is responsible for targets and the overall working of the planning system. And the housebuilding sector has never built affordable housing except when contracted to do so by the public sector.

The reason for the shortage is simple: councils stopped building homes in 1979 under Mrs Thatcher, and Tony Blair has continued that policy. End of story. Now Barker wants more prefabrication as though that, in itself, can solve the 'problem'. Treasury minds are now wondering whether, in view of what it perceives as the success of PFI in delivering schools, hospitals, prisons etc on time and budget, it could not do the same for housing, bypassing house-builders and creating new relationships with local authorities as housing enablers. PFI consortia might use prefabrication in new ways, but as a matter of practicality, not dogma.

Scotch missed Presumably we will see the results of the inquiry into the Scottish parliamentary building some time this year, though it would be unwise to place bets on exactly when. However, Astragal will stick a neck out and predict the following findings: a lot of flim-flam about who knew who in the procurement process, of which much will be made but really being of little importance; most of the 'overspend' will be correctly identified as being the result of client changes and a very odd way of defining cost by the late Donald Dewar; and about 20 per cent will be put down to poor contract management, not entirely surprising given that the client never defined or controlled the project from the outset. The parliament will try to blame the late Enric Miralles and the contractor, but it has been largely the fault of the politicians.

French leave Exciting thoughts from the Gallic sage Jean Baudrillard in Mass.

Identity. Architecture (Routledge). His selected writings on architecture get off to an unpromising start when, interviewing Jean Nouvel, Baudrillard announces:

'I've never been interested in architecture.'

But that doesn't prove a hindrance.

'Beaubourg is a monument of cultural deterrence, ' he opines. 'Within a museal scenario that only serves to keep up the humanist fiction of culture, it is a veritable fashioning of the death of culture that takes place.

The masses rush toward Beaubourg as they rush toward disaster sites, with the same irresistible Úlan. Better:

they are the disaster of Beaubourg.'

Plenty more where that came fromà

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