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Hoxton needs Hadid

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Hackney Council planners were brave and forward-thinking – which is more than you can say for the heritage lobby, writes Kenny Schachter

In 2004, I asked Zaha Hadid to draw up plans for 33-34 Hoxton Square and went to planning with a mixed-use residential and commercial development. Though I received permission to demolish the 1980s eyesore that sat on the site in 2006, right to light issues rendered the project too risky. Moreover, the finesse in the design was the roof, and, for those without helicopters, the building was missing the pizzazz and flow usually associated with Hadid. In the summer of 2007, I purchased 35 Hoxton Square, a decrepit garment workshop in order to create a coherent site, providing leeway to push the design. Back to planning I went.

As the process moved forward, I attended a Hackney Council review panel which lasted into the night. To say planners are without foresight is a plainly incorrect generalisation. Slow maybe, but hardworking, thoughtful and bold in the face of opposition. A member of the panel (formerly on the planning committee) expressed dismay that the initial design did not go far enough. English Heritage (EH) was another story. The ‘strong objection’ expressed by EH was to the disruption of the ‘harmonious visual balance’ on the square by the ‘discordant and alien form of the proposed development’. EH would prefer that the few listed buildings on the square sit in isolation, frozen in the past.

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