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Astragal: Culture club row at Portland Place

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A generation gap has opened up in the RIBA’s club scene

Relations between the new chair of the RIBA’s British Architectural Trust Board, music industry boss Rob Dickins, and the architectural establishment recently became more than a little discordant.

Dickins, a former chairman of Warner Bros Music, was appointed to the post last September and has hatched ambitious plans to make 66 Portland Place a proper part of the capital’s cultural scene with improved facilities and regular evening discussions aimed at younger movers and shakers.

However, a proposal to call the initiative the Architects’ Club has now been abandoned following an almighty row with some older movers and shakers at the similarly named Architecture Club – a peripatetic society of architects and others, established back in 1922.

By a delicious coincidence, the Architecture Club is chaired by John Tusa, Dickins’ predecessor at the British Architectural Trust Board, who resigned in 2017, hitting out at the RIBA’s ‘culture of fear’.

Astragal would dearly like to tell readers what these two big beasts of the cultural world said to each other about their name clash but will have to leave it to readers’ imaginations.

Sellar’s market 

Grimshaw was so upset over Shard developer Sellar’s plans to knock down part of its High-Tech Sainsbury’s complex in Camden Town that it threw its weight behind heritage campaigners’ bid to have the development listed. 

Camden sainsbury philafrenzy

Camden sainsbury philafrenzy

Andrew Phillips’ proposal to strip Grand Union House back to its first-floor slab and build a new office block will ‘destroy the integrity’ of what the project achieved, said Grimshaw partner Neven Sidor.

‘A huge amount of effort went into creating a bespoke cladding language that ties the three constituent parts of the development together,’ he told the AJ at the time. 

Interesting, then, that Astragal has since heard mutterings that a few years back Grimshaw itself drew up a set of plans, also for Sellar, proposing to flatten the building and replace it. Grimshaw has declined to comment.

Was it the negroni talking?

Former FAT firebrand Sean Griffiths was in a feisty mood at the latest Negroni Talk – an informal bar room gathering of architecture’s best chatters brought together, on this occasion, to tackle the prickly subject of dishonesty and architecture.

Setting out a personal manifesto, he began: ‘Architects are fucking liars. They lie in PR. They lie in planning documents. 

‘They lie to win the job. To convince the client. To impress their peers. To sound cleverer than they are. And most of all to make out that they are doing much better than they actually are.’

During the event, chaired by the AJ’s Will Hurst and hosted by architect Fourth_space, Griffiths also took a swipe at fellow speaker Amin Taha for having said that all architects were ‘storytellers’ – ‘He is of course correct, if he means we talk a lot of old shit.’

Burgh off Carmody Groarke

Burgh Island Hotel, an Art Deco building on an island just off the Devon coast, has always been a place of mystery and isolated glamour.

The ‘retreat’, commissioned by theatrical producer and founder Archibald Nettlefold, was built by little-known architect Matthew Dawson in 1929. At high tide it can only be accessed by an adapted tractor.

Its odd near-yet-untouchable position made the whitewashed Grade II-listed hotel the perfect backdrop for two Agatha Christie novels.

And the mysterious circumstances surrounding the fate of Carmody Groarke’s competition-winning pool house for the island could have become another unsolved riddle.

20 f

20 f

In March 2017 councillors on South Hams District Council’s development committee voted in favour of the proposed standalone suite on a dramatic headland. Since then, silence. 

Thankfully, the hotel’s new owners have been surprisingly candid. Giles Fuchs, co-owner of Burgh Island since last year, said: ‘Given that our priority is the renovation of the hotel, where we have just completed phase one of a multi-million pound project, we decided not to go ahead with this development.’

Not quite a Christie-esque denouement, but a conclusion nonetheless. Scheme scrapped. Case closed. 

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