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James Stirling's widow hits out at Poultry plans

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Mary Stirling, the widow of architect James Stirling, has called on City of London planners to reject a controversial planning application to alter his building at No 1 Poultry

She has added her weight to opposition led by leading figures in architecture including Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, who oppose the designs by Buckley Gray Yeoman to revamp the iconic building.

In a letter to planning officials, Mary Stirling said that although she was open to the idea of changes to James Stirling and Michael Wilford  &  Partners’ post-modern flagship, the current proposals were dangerous and would strangle the original concept.

She said: ‘Some updating may be necessary after 17 years, but any changes, while obviously aimed at engaging the current needs of tenants, should also (and most importantly) preserve the building’s long-term integrity and the existing quality of the environment.

‘By glazing up to the face of the columns the pavement is effectively reduced, with some danger to pedestrians and cyclists. A cyclist was killed here recently.’

She added that modifications should be sensitive to preserve the building. ‘In my view the current proposals emasculate the design concept,’ she said.

Separately, Marco Iuliano, senior lecturer and research director at the Centre for Architecture and the Visual Arts at the Liverpool School of Architecture has described the plans as ‘an act of vandalism on a masterpiece of 20th century architecture, which severely compromise the original design and reduce its public accessibility’.

In June the Twentieth Century Society applied for listing for the 1997 building and ‘strongly objected’ to the proposals which will overhaul the existing shop fronts, create a new entrance to the offices and increase the amount of light reaching the first and second floors (see AJ 11.06.15).

Meanwhile, planning consultant DP9, acting on behalf of the building’s owner, investment firm Perella Weinberg Partners, has also written to planners arguing that the current layout of the building is already making it difficult to retain both retail and commercial occupiers.

It said: ‘These retail issues have been cited by the current tenants and it has resulted in the departure of GAP stores from their retail unit on Poultry, despite attractive leasing terms being in place, and there are further concerns that other tenants will leave the site when their leases expire.’

It also said that insurance firm Aviva, which currently leases 8,361m² in the building, has stated that it may leave the building unless the proposals in the planning application are implemented.

‘The proposals therefore have been developed in conjunction with the City’s planning and design officers to improve the current commercial situation of the site,’ the letter said.

The changes proposed are modest and respectful

A spokesperson for Perella Weinberg Parnters added: ‘We have been encouraged by the large number of public and expert commentators who share our view that such a recent building, which is under no threat, does not meet the criteria for II-star listing.

‘The changes proposed are modest and respectful, whilst responding to the problems the building currently presents its occupiers.’

Previous story (AJ 17.07.15)

Matt Yeoman: ‘Our plans do not threaten No1 Poultry’

Buckley Gray Yeoman’s Matt Yeoman responds to the outrage caused by his practice’s proposals for James Stirling and Michael Wilford  &  Partners’ post-modern flagship, Number 1 Poultry

What are the reasons for the proposed alterations at Number 1 Poultry?
Our proposals address the practical shortcomings that the building suffers from, to create more space and light and a better relationship with the retailers. We’re looking to enhance the building too, to create an entrance and reception area that a building of this importance and prominence deserves.
Overall, the proposals will enhance One Poultry’s status as a landmark building without compromising its key architectural and design elements.

What are the biggest misconceptions about your scheme?
That we are seeking to materially alter the fabric, integrity or prominence of the building. Fundamentally, this building is not under threat. On the contrary, our proposals secure its future. 

Do you think the changes you are proposing are in the spirit of the original design?
Absolutely. We have studied the original drawings, sketches and plans for the building in enormous detail. We have worked very hard to ensure that our proposals reflect an understanding of and sympathy for the integrity of One Poultry. As a result, our proposals respect and improve the key elements of the building whilst improving the quality of the working and public spaces within it. 

Have you been surprised by the reaction to your proposals at Number 1 Poultry? Why do you think so many high profile architects have leapt on them?
One Poultry is an important building, so interest in its well-being is understandable. But to call for grade II-star* is an overreaction to what are minor changes to a building that, from a practical perspective, has flaws that can be easily remedied. But it is no real surprise that those who worked on a building want it listed.

Would you be confident of getting the changes through even if it was listed?
I don’t support the listing bid which is unnecessary because the building is not under threat. We should be able to tweak and enhance great buildings so that they are able to adapt to the changing needs of society and so that their future is safeguarded. 

Given the battle over the demolition of the building’s predecessor to make way for the current building, do you find the reaction to your proposals ironic?
Calling for grade II* listing of One Poultry in response to our proposals is an overreaction, and an unnecessary response to minor changes which do not put the building under any threat.

Calling for grade II* listing is an overreaction

What is your view of the existing building - and where do you think it ranks as an example of postmodern architecture?
There is a lot to be admired in Number 1 Poultry and it’s been a pleasure to develop proposals that contribute toward its evolution. But it has problems that should be addressed. As architects we have an obligation to create buildings that look beautiful and inspiring, but that function well also. 

Do you think Stirling would have approved of your proposed alterations to the building?
If Stirling had lived to finish the building, these alterations would be unnecessary because he would have addressed the building’s problems during the design phase. 

Were you aware that Historic England had considered the building for listing as part of its post-modern offices review?
I was aware. It was not among the list probably because Historic England carefully consider these matters devoid of emotion. They tend not to allow personal and emotive experiences to inform their view.  

What criteria do you think Historic England should use when listing postmodern buildings?
The criteria is already laid out in statute and is very clear.  Fundamentally, the criteria for the listing of recent buildings is that they need to be under threat even to be considered. Number 1 Poultry isn’t under threat. Also, if it was listed at grade II* it would be the youngest ever building to be granted that status. It is after all, only 17 years old and listing it now would create a real precedent. Perhaps, the next generation should be the ones to judge.

No 1 Poultry (taken in 2008)

No 1 Poultry (taken in 2008)

Previous story (AJ 13.07.2015)

Foster and Rogers add weight to No1 Poultry listing bid

Norman Foster and Richard Rogers have become the latest high-profile architects to speak up against plans by Buckley Gray Yeoman to revamp Number 1 Poultry

The intervention by the two giants of the UK architecture scene comes a week after Peter Palumbo, the client who commissioned James Stirling to design the 1990s City of London building, lashed out at the proposals.

Both last week submitted objections to the plans, which would see alterations to the building including bigger windows, a new office entrance and the extension of retail units to fill arcade recesses.

In his letter, Foster said: ‘I would like to add my voice to the growing chorus of rightful opposition to the proposed changes to Number 1 Poultry which was designed by James Stirling and is located at the very heart of the City of London.

‘This is the work of a commission by one of the great patrons of modern architecture, Lord Palumbo, and one of the most outstanding and influential architects of his generation on the world stage.

‘This work is overdue for protection either by listing or a clear rejection of the proposed changes.’
Meanwhile Rogers said: ‘James Stirling was the first British architect to develop a truly modern style. One Poultry is a beautifully designed, post-modern masterpiece with fits neatly into its prominent site.

‘It is one of his last buildings and pays special attention to context, use of materials and subtle playfulness.

He added that he believes the building deserves grade II listing.

Architects Zaha Hadid, Gordon Kelly, Piers Gough and Chris Dyson along with critics Owen Hatherley, Stephen Bayley, Charles Jencks and Hugh Pearman have already voiced objections to the proposals.

At the end of June, 24 members of James Stirling and Michael Wilford & Partners’ office spoke out about the proposed revamp, including Stirling’s partner Michael Wilford and the scheme’s project architect Laurence Bain. 

In her letter to the Corporation of London, Hadid described the building as a ‘Postmodern masterpiece that deserves to be kept as a monument to innovative design and excellent execution’.

Palumbo submitted his letter to support a bid by the Twentieth Century Society to award the building Grade II listing status.

He said: ‘Had Buckley Gray Yeoman taken the time and trouble to acquaint themselves with the content of the Public Inquiry that follows the planning application to the City Corporation of London for the design by Sir James Stirling; and the further judicial inquiry that was finally settled by the decision of the House of Lords, they would see, unpalatable to them as it would have been, that the forensic examination to which each and every element of the design was put reveals the present proposals of Buckley Gray Yeoman and the assumptions upon which they are based, as shallow, empty, and of no account.’

In January, Historic England omitted the building from a list of 14 post-war office buildings to which it gave listed status (see AJ 28.01.15).


James Stirling's widow hits out at Poultry plans

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