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Astragal: Swings and roundabouts at Portland Place

Portland Place

Astragal has learned of another possible embarrassment for the RIBA

It has been a tough couple of weeks for the institute. Scandal has surrounded its president, Alan Jones, and its supposedly ‘historic’ governance shake-up, publicly derided by AHMM chief Simon Allford.

Rumours abound that the RIBA is looking to move its entire workforce back into its Grade II*-listed 66 Portland Place HQ, just five years after it shipped them out to the neighbouring 76 Portland Place.

Much was made of the original decant of its 300 staff into the former Institute of Physics building, following a £2.9 million revamp by Theis + Khan.

Theis + Khan's revamp of 76 Portland Place

Theis + Khan’s revamp of 76 Portland Place

Theis + Khan’s revamp of 76 Portland Place

The move was meant to free up 66 Portland Place, allowing it to become a money-making conference venue and a place where ‘staff and the public will experience, learn and debate architecture’.

Yet it is understood RIBA chiefs are now considering selling up the remaining 37-year lease on 76 Portland Place and are contemplating a major retrofit of its old home to make room for the returning employees.

So what is the reason for a possible switch-back-eroo? Money? Surely not. In its 2014 annual report the RIBA stated: ‘The move to 76 Portland Place will achieve significant savings, expected to exceed £750,000 per year.’

A spokesperson for the institute would not be drawn on the speculation. The official line is: ‘Like any responsible business, we regularly assess the best use of our assets. We are not planning any significant office moves in the near future.’

Nothing to see here then. Yet.

Calatrava’s vision for Greenwich Peninsula will remain just that

The plug has finally been pulled on Santiago Calatrava’s £1 billion vision for London’s Greenwich Peninsula, which was, ironically, shaped like an upturned three-pin plug.

3055297 benblossom calatrava s lr 1 10

3055297 benblossom calatrava s lr 1 10

The famous Spanish engineer and architect first revealed his designs for a massive scheme in February 2017. From the off, rumours were rife that his soaring 130,000m² Peninsula Place project for developer Knight Dragon would never get off the ground.

The great man insisted there would be no problems with delivering the scheme and admonished the AJ in 2017 for hinting at issues on other high-profile projects. However, sources were suggesting even then that any attempt to build the huge tent-like, interlinked design in affordable phases would have been near-impossible. 

Now, after three years of rebuttals, Knight Dragon has conceded Calatrava will not be ‘progressing the current concept’ for the site – plans, by the way, which would have also spelled the end for Foster + Partners’ North Greenwich Interchange. A spokesperson for the developer said: ‘Greenwich Peninsula is a 20-year regeneration project. As with any project of such scale, circumstances will change, bringing new opportunities and challenges, and it needs to evolve accordingly. 

‘In this context, Knight Dragon is now working on an alternative innovative and iconic concept for what is the gateway to, and centrepiece of, the Peninsula.’ Who will be next to take on the Knight Dragon quest for a (deliverable) icon?

Hawkins\Brown’s bottom line

While some companies have been panicking during the coronavirus crisis – and the AJ has heard horror stories of some brutal behaviour and knee-jerk redundancies – others appear to have been more considerate to their employees. Care packages of coffee and Easter eggs have been sent to remote workers across the UK, with chunky computer monitors couriered to home offices. 

Some have gone further still. In one particular case an employee at Hawkins\Brown was told, as their ergonomic office chair was being unloaded off the back of a van into their home, to wait, as there was something else coming. Then out came a single, generous toilet roll. Not a pack, mind you. Just one toilet roll. It’s the thought that counts.

Confess your sustainability sins

Architects need forgiveness just like everyone else. During last month’s FutureBuild the Architects’ Climate Action Network (ACAN) invited industry professionals to step inside a pop-up confessions booth and unload their most egregious ‘climate sins’. 

The anonymous confessions, seen by Astragal, are certainly revealing: ‘I travelled to Spain by plane four times in one year to look at glass samples,’ admitted one.

Future build confessions 12

Future build confessions 12

‘I gained planning for a development that had to have over two parking spaces per dwelling because of planning policy, and I was supposed to celebrate the achievement,’ another confessed.

Future build confessions 16

Future build confessions 16

‘I build to Passivhaus and EnerPHit. I drive electric. I love my bike. I eat less meat. I have a keep-cup … but I still love concrete!’ exclaimed another. 

If you also ‘work in a sustainability team full of flight-a-holics’ or are ‘working for clients who want a green world but drive V12 Bentleys’, you can add your anonymous confessions to the pile via ACAN’s online booth. A digital ‘Sunday Service’ will be held in due course, offering absolution to us all.

Architects assembly 5

Architects assembly 5


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