The feud centres on Great Notley Primary School, Essex, an award-winning exemplar school designed by AHMM in 1999.
Essex Council commissioned an extension to the school, but rather than calling on AHMM to carry out the work, it turned to Enfield-based Bryant Harvey Partnership (BHP).
According to BHP, Essex Council instructed the firm to follow its planners requirements to make its extension ‘look exactly the same’ as AHMM’s building.
BHP associate director Jonathan Ringshall said: ‘[The council] said they wanted the extension to fit in with the context of the buildings in the surrounding area. Well, the only building in that area was the existing school.
‘The design of the AHMM school was very successful, and that is what the council wanted with the extension.’
AHMM’s original £1.8 million 1,800-pupil school won numerous awards, including the RIBA Sustainability Award in 2000.
The AJ understands AHMM sought legal advice after it saw BHP’s completed building in 2004/05.
‘I was astonished when I saw the new building. To my eyes it is a bastardised copy of our work,’ said AHMM partner Simon Allford.
He added: ‘I have always believed buildings have a life after their author and, indeed, I welcome these layers of history. But for Essex to commission another architect, having interviewed us, and for them to attempt to seemingly replicate our architecture is extraordinary.
‘We believe there can never be any winners in court and we’re keen for an open debate about when homage becomes to literal and the issue of copyright and intellectual property arises.
‘Essex’s position is that the building is not a copy,’ he said.
Indeed, Essex Council refutes any claim that the building imitates the original or that it instructed BHP to duplicate AHMM’s school.
An Essex Council spokeswoman said: ‘The new building uses a similar architectural language and has a similar external appearance, something that is evident in many additions and extensions to buildings across the country.
‘Such similarities are inevitable when using a limited number of building components and techniques; however the new building is unique in many ways.’
She added: ‘While we intended for the new building to reference the original, we never authorised the infringement of copyright nor breached any agreements with the original architects.’
AHMM has decided against taking Essex to court. According to the RIBA’s executive director of business services Richard Brindley, proving one’s copyright can be difficult unless it is clearly written into the contract.
Brindley said: ‘If there is no clause written into the contract about who has the copyright then a court would look to the legal precedent. It is assumed that in the absence of a contract then the copyright would go back to the originator, i.e. the designer.
‘But a court could say the client has paid for something and therefore has the right to use it. It may also be fair to assume that if the client wanted to extend the school then it would do so in the same style.’
Brindley added: ‘What the RIBA says time and time again is: “Get it in writing.” If you do that you’ll avoid situations like this.’