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the question of honesty and architectural integrity

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Clare Melhuish reviews...

This is an uncomfortable exhibition which appears to be conceived substantially as an advertising initiative for the Richard Coleman Consultancy.

Coleman, former deputy secretary of the Royal Fine Art Commission, now offers independent advice 'to anyone involved in property management and development'. The title of the exhibition suggests those services can also infuse a project with moral and ethical qualities that might otherwise be lacking. Yet, surprisingly, the presentation of six new major developments in London is devoid of any critique of the programme or development intentions involved, despite the reiterated invocation of the good of 'mankind' in the text advertising the accompanying publication.

The aim of the exhibition is to celebrate 'the recent achievements resulting from the collaboration of the Richard Coleman Consultancy with the following architects-', in respect of prevailing planning policy promoting the conservation of historic building facades. In each case, involving sites in the commercial centres of the city, the collaboration resulted in the complete replacement of existing buildings, including facades which would normally be the subject of retention orders, regardless of their structural, programmatic, and aesthetic incompatibility with the comprehensive redevelopment behind.

While the controversial Swiss Re building in the City, designed to replace the old Baltic Exchange, is a fairly dramatic example of this process, most of the other projects represent fairly innocuous interventions, albeit of relatively high architectural quality and a good standard of construction. They embody the values of a modern architecture of 'good taste' and sensitivity to context, which has become the hallmark of practices such as those concerned - Allies and Morrison, Eric Parry, MacCormac Jamieson Prichard et al.

The exhibition maintains that these projects have an 'integrity' and 'honesty' fundamentally absent in the 'facadism' which became prevalent during the '70s and '80s as a direct result of conservationism. In other words, they do not seek to disguise the changes taking place in the substance and use of the city fabric, as it is replaced piecemeal over the years. But also, they represent an architecture of structural and functional integrity and transparency, in terms of the relationship between envelope and structure.

In this sense, the exhibition demonstrates a strong allegiance to the principles of Modern Movement aesthetic dogma and Ruskinian idealism, which might be considered outdated in the 21st century. But, in its apparently unquestioning acceptance of a complete absence of any concept of social function in these projects, beyond the imperative of commercial advantage, it manifests an essentially different and superficial idea of architectural integrity different from that which inspired the architects who could envisage an alternative to the rule of property as profit.

Building with Honesty is showing at the Architecture Foundation, London

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