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Heritage campaigners attack Renzo Piano’s ‘gratuitously clumsy’ £100m Bermondsey plans

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SAVE Britain’s Heritage has branded a high-rise £100 million mixed-use scheme in Bermondsey Street near London Bridge station by Renzo Piano ‘lazy’ and ‘gratuitously clumsy’

The Victorian Society has also lashed out at the ‘towering’ 16-storey project, backed by Shard developer Sellar, describing it as ‘grossly overscale’ and unsympathetic to Southwark’s historic character; while Historic England said it would ‘damage the significance of the conservation area’. 

All three organisations have objected to the twin-site project, which features a glazed tower sitting above a 19th-century warehouse building, called Vinegar Yard, and the redevelopment of 40-44 Bermondsey Street, currently home to the developer’s own offices.

According to Sellar, Vinegar Yard’s derelict interior will be ‘carefully dismantled and retained’ while a programme of inspection will be undertaken to identify interior elements that might be reusable.

The developer added that the recently submitted designs by Renzo Piano Building Workshop would respect local views along Bermondsey Street while the scheme’s height would transition from the area’s ‘village atmosphere’ up to the revamped London Bridge Station.

However, SAVE Britain’s Heritage has called for a major rethink of the project. SAVE director Henrietta Billings told the AJ: ‘The proposed design of a glass tower emerging from, and overbearing, the shell of the historic Vinegar Yard Warehouse reduces the retained elevations to stick on decoration.

‘This is a gratuitously clumsy proposal on a sensitive site – there are numerous industrial buildings with handsome frontages in the vicinity which give Southwark its gritty and varied townscape. It should certainly be possible to retain this warehouse and combine the new building to the large adjoining site which is already cleared.’

This proposal is lazy thinking, unworthy of one of the world’s most successful architectural practices

She added: ‘This proposal is lazy thinking, unworthy of one of the world’s most successful architectural practices, who so successfully converted the former Lingotto factory in Turin. Sellar and Piano should listen to the local community and go back to the drawing board.’

Meanwhile the Victorian Society said it ‘strongly objected’ to the proposals, adding that its approval could open the floodgates to more skyscrapers in the area.

A spokesperson for the society said: ‘Our objection highlights two causes for grave concern: firstly, the damage that would be inflicted on the historic warehouse; and secondly the towering height of the development, which would overshadow surviving nearby industrial warehouses and contribute to the steady destruction of the historic character of Southwark. It is crucial that the historic fabric of this area is protected.’

They added: ‘Gutting the original fabric of the warehouse, which dates between 1857-1872 and retains many of its original features, and replacing the interior with an entirely new structure would eradicate the integrity of the building, which serves as a direct link to Southwark’s rich industrial history and heritage.

The proposed 17-storey structure would be grossly out of scale with its surroundings

‘The Bermondsey Street Conservation Area is characterised by its low-rise industrial buildings, largely in the form of small warehouses. The proposed 17-storey structure would be grossly out of scale with its surroundings, and importantly would set a precedent for further high-rise buildings in the area to be erected.’

Historic England said it had advised Southwark Council that ‘using the warehouse as a podium for a tall building at Vinegar Yard would damage the significance of the conservation area by introducing a very different scale to the relatively low scale warehouse and surrounding area’.

Even before the scheme was submitted for planning in March this year, the proposal had faced early criticism over its size, with some local residents raising concern about the height of the extension to Vinegar Yard. 

The Piano scheme is part of the wider St Thomas Street East Framework, a ‘co-ordinated approach’ by for four landowners – Greystar, Columbia Threadneedle, CIT and Sellar – rather than part of the formal planning process. 

It includes the redevelopment of 1980s office block Becket House on St Thomas Street by Columbia Threadneedle for a new commercial scheme, which is being overseen by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

A planning committee date has not yet been set.

Response from Sellar and Renzo Piano Building Workshop

We disagree profoundly with SAVE’s comments.

The design we have put forward is the product of detailed and sensitive consideration, and of extensive consultation and engagement with the planning authority and local stakeholders.

The Vinegar Yard warehouse has been vacant for over 10 years and is in a poor state of repair. The application submitted to Southwark involves a full restoration of the warehouse and the retention of its characteristic features.

The design put forward is the product of detailed and sensitive consideration and of extensive consultation 

The beautiful glass extension will restore the warehouse from dereliction to a new and long-term working life. Piano has called upon his experience in crafting the Hermes building in Tokyo to create a luminescent form that complements the retained building.

The Piano design sets the rehabilitated warehouse within a new piazza at the heart of a new commercial district immediately south of the recently enlarged London Bridge Station.

In its form and the quality of its design and materials the warehouse forms part of the two new Sellar buildings that manage a carefully considered transition from the character of Bermondsey Street to the metropolitan scale around London Bridge Station.

The submitted Sellar scheme will attract around 1,600 permanent new jobs in the heart of Southwark’s core business district contributing to the council and the GLA’s overall target of 25,000 new jobs within the London Bridge Opportunity Area.

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