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Heritage campaigners hit out at AHMM plans for temporary House of Commons

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Conservationists have slammed the ‘wanton destruction’ and ‘state-sponsored vandalism’ of Grade II*-listed Richmond House to make way for a temporary House of Commons

The Twentieth Century Society and SAVE Britain’s Heritage both reacted angrily to plans revealed by AHMM today (8 May) to house MPs within William Whitfield’s 1980s building close to the Cenotaph.

Commons business is expected to relocate to the temporary location from 2025 to 2033 while the Palace of Westminster undergoes a £4 billion BDP-led refurbishment.

The government admitted the AHMM scheme would effectively ‘replace’ Richmond House, while ‘retaining key frontages visible to the public on Whitehall’.

The Twentieth Century Society said the plans ‘confirm our worst fears’ and represent ‘almost total destruction’ of ‘one of the most significant buildings’ of the last 100 years.

Director Catherine Croft said: ‘It was blatantly obvious from even a cursory assessment that there was no hope of fitting the temporary chamber on this site without demolishing almost all of Richmond House.

‘Parliament needed to take a much more radical and imaginative approach to this problem. Had they relocated to an out-of-London site or relocated in a park or other open space this wanton destruction could have been avoided and the overall costs of the project could have been reduced.’

SAVE Britain’s Heritage again urged ministers to make public the cost-benefit analysis of alternative sites for relocating the Commons.

Executive president Marcus Binney said: ‘The destruction of Richmond House is state-sponsored vandalism of the first order. It is also a grotesque waste of public money to destroy a 30-year-old government building, constructed to an exceptional high specification to make it worthy of Whitehall.’

It is a grotesque waste of public money to destroy a 30-year-old government building

SAVE’s director, Henrietta Billings, added: ‘This expensive, destructive proposal must be fully scrutinised and justified as part of the decision-making process. We know there are alternative sites; it’s essential they are fully explored and costed against the vast and approximate budget set out today for the demolition of Grade II*-listed Richmond House.’

MPs voted last February to leave the Palace of Westminster while a huge programme of works, designed by BDP, is carried out at the historic building.

A Parliamentary spokesperson said today: ‘The approach of focusing the scale of intervention on Richmond House has been thoroughly tested, recognising that this does cause harm to a listed building and we have not embarked on this lightly. We are retaining all of the frontages of the building visible by the public and revealing internally the full scale of the Whitehall façade with a triple height central lobby space. We are also renovating the Georgian Richmond Terrace as well as 54 Parliament Street and 85 Whitehall.

‘Behind these spaces, however, it has to be recognised that the current Richmond House functions very poorly as an office building and indeed the Department of Health decided to move out of the building completely in 2017.

‘The delivery of a temporary House of Commons chamber, its associated facilities and offices for all 650 MPs and their staff within the Northern Estate is a considerable challenge and every option requires substantial redevelopment to parts of Richmond House.

‘By creating a confident, contemporary new building in this location, which delivers the vast majority of the new spaces required, we are able to protect, conserve and enhance the other historic buildings across the wider Northern Estate, including the Grade I listed Norman Shaw North.

‘We believe these proposals deliver the best long-term legacy for the Northern Estate site and we are also extremely aware that this entire project is aimed at enabling the timely restoration and renewal of the single most important listed building in the country – the Palace of Westminster.’

AHMM and BDP declined to comment beyond pointing to the Parliamentary statement.

Tributes paid to Richmond House

 

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4953751730 bbfb7b5345 o

Source: Steph Gray (CC)

 

The Twentieth Century Society: The strength of Whitfield’s Richmond House is the way he designed it to respond to its context and made sense of the Northern Estate as a whole. It is particularly strong in the way it blends both the styles of the Norman Shaw buildings and the Georgian Richmond Terrace façade.

The front façade is merely a glimpse of the quality behind. The interiors are carefully crafted using high-quality materials referencing both Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Lutyens, the designer of the Cenotaph opposite.

Grade II*-listed buildings form only 5.5 per cent of all listed buildings in the country and 1980s buildings of this grade are astoundingly rare, making this one of the most significant of its date in the UK.’

Save Britain’s Heritage: Richmond House was listed Grade II* just four years ago. Designed by Sir William Whitfield, it was the most expensive public-sector office building ever built. Constructed of the finest materials, it was designed to be a worthy neighbour of the Foreign Office, HM Treasury and Norman Shaw’s gabled and bartizaned Police Headquarters (aka New Scotland Yard) which it backs on to.

Whitfield gave added strength to his courtyard frontages with staircase towers subtly echoing the “streaky bacon” banding used by Norman Shaw. And instead of the usual flat curtain wall of glass for the offices, Whitfield produced a novel version of the ziggurat using lead as well as glass to create strong patterns of light and shade. This is sculptural modelling of a high order, echoing the inspired Whitehall frontage. Whitfield’s building is laid out like a giant capital F. This means that every desk can be near a window with natural light.’ 

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