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Heritage group proposes rival plans to Piano’s Bermondsey 'façadism'

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A heritage group has unveiled an alternative to Renzo Piano’s warehouse scheme near London Bridge station which it has criticised as an example of the ’alarming trend of façadism’

Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s proposals for Shard developer Sellar, unveiled in November, involve the redevelopment of warehouse buildings on the corner of Bermondsey Street and Snowsfield, and another building in Vinegar Yard.

But local groups Bermondsey Village Action Group and Old Bermondsey Neighbourhood Forum argue the plans to build a large extension above the Vinegar Yard warehouse feeds into the ‘high-rise bonanza’ of development in the area.

It has put forward an alternative community-led proposal for the ‘sensitive’ development of the building including restoring the structure and constructing a glass extension on the south side of the warehouse.

Russell Gray, co-ordinator of the neighbourhood forum, said: ‘Sellar’s proposal to do this with the warehouse we have long fought to save destroys the interior of the building as well as its setting and puts heritage policy in the spotlight.  

There are only two supporters of this kind of scheme: the developers and the Council. Local people are overwhelmingly opposed to it.’

Gray added that the Sellar scheme was part of an ‘alarming trend’ in Southwark and other areas of London, where planners and conservation officers are ‘more exercised with justifying heritage loss than with preserving it’.

’An emerging and dangerous expression of this tendency is the support local authorities are showing for the kind of façadism that pushes a tower block through the interior of heritage buildings.’

Gray said the community proposal was available to Sellar as a scheme it could take forward, but also said it had ‘full funding’ and could deliver the scheme itself. 

But Joost Moolhuijzen, a partner at Renzo Piano Building Workshop overseeing the Bermondsey scheme, defended his practice’s scheme, insisting the designs ‘respected the character of Bermondsey Street’. 

He said: ‘If you look at the scale of the project, it is the scaling down from the Shard down to Bermondsey street level. It’s not just a façade-retainment scheme.

‘We have retained the building and kept the cast steel columns as we felt this building is an important element. We felt that using glass at a scale is very exciting and interesting.

He added: ’We think its fine to densify the site right next to a major station in central London. Bermondsey Street is not anymore what it was.’

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.

It also includes plans for the redevelopment of neighbouring office block Capital House, opposite the Shard, the site where SPPARC Architecture’s controversial Quill student accommodation skyscraper was approved in 2010 but never built.

KPF Architects has now designed a 39-storey tower with an ‘origami-style’ façade for developer Greystar on the Weston Street site, currently being considered by Southwark Council.

The Sellar Bermondsey scheme is out for public consultation. 

Sellar was approached for comment. 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Mr Piano seems to be treading in Mr Foster's footsteps - or perhaps Norman is treading in Renzo's? Heaven help us if this is a new fad.

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