A major row has broken out on the Barbican Estate over Nicholas Hare Architects’ plans for a school expansion, which residents claim will be ‘a major threat to the architectural heritage’ of the listed complex
This week the City of London School for Girls, a private school based at the Brutalist landmark, revealed the latest designs to grow its prep school including building an ‘infill’ canteen underneath one of the residential blocks.
The proposal – a rethink of the school’s unpopular plan to build a new wing in an underground car park – has faced immediate opposition from residents on the Grade II-listed estate.
The school wants to increase the size of its prep school from 730 to 826 pupils by building a dining hall and kitchen in the space beneath Mountjoy House, a 64-home terrace block supported on tall columns.
It also proposes a new building by the lake overlooking St Giles’ terrace, and to build above one of its existing buildings to provide space for a new sixth form.
However critics argue that building an ‘infill’ scheme (in blue, below) would block off protected views, destroy the ‘striking voids’ and obscure the piloti columns integral to Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s famous design.
The Barbican Association has launched a working group to campaign against the expansion, which it claims sets a ‘dangerous precedent’ for development and constitutes ‘a major threat to the architectural heritage of the estate.’
The association points out that the fee-paying school is owned by the City of London in its role as a private corporation not a local authority, adding: ‘The City should not allow its commercial interests to take priority over both residential interests and Barbican architectural heritage.’
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The group’s co-chair Andrew Hawkins said: ’Unlike all other elements of the estate – the residents, the Guildhall School and the Arts Centre – it [the school] has continually grown since the 1980s, taking more and more space and compromising the original architectural vision in order to grow its commercial revenues.’
The group also argues that the school is trying to ‘tempt’ residents to support the proposals by offering the new dining-hall facilities for residents to use.
A Barbican Association flyer sent to residents says: ‘The school has not chosen to share its facilities for the past 50 years. Residents should be aware that if we support this offer we are helping the school’s planning case.’
The plans have also been criticised by architects and conservationists. Barnabas Calder, a lecturer in architecture at the University of Liverpool and author of a book on Brutalism, said the unity and consistency of the Barbican’s design made it a ’site of pilgrimage for architecture lovers from all over the world’.
He said: ‘The idea of building into voids in the existing buildings might superficially seem like a neat way to expand the school. The Barbican, however, is a very carefully composed Brutalist townscape.
‘The voids which Chamberlin Powell and Bon chose to leave at podium level and below were meticulously placed and carefully composed and detailed.
‘No one has been allowed to build into the empty spaces of the Piazza Navona or the Place Des Vosges; the open areas of the Barbican are no less important to the quality of the architecture, nor, in their cave-like magnificence, any less beautiful.’
In the public consultation documents, the school says it has ‘refined’ its thinking after reviewing feedback from its original plans to build underneath the Thomas More Car Park.
It insists that the new plans have been developed with heritage consultants so the designs ‘respect the heritage of the Barbican’.
A City of London Corporation spokesperson said: ‘The plans for the City of London School for Girls are currently open to public consultation with residents and other stakeholders.
‘The City of London School for Girls values its place at the heart of the Barbican and looks forward to continued collaboration with the community.’
The school was established by the Corporation of the City of London in 1894 and moved to its current site in the Barbican in 1969.
According to the consultation, the school will submit a planning application by September 2019.
The school, the City of London and Nicholas Hare Architects have been approached for comment.
Source: Andrew Hawkins