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Olympicopolis halves towers' height and leaves V&A looking for extra space

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The AJ understands a major revision of Allies and Morrison’s £1.3 billion Olympicopolis scheme has more than halved the height of its twin towers, and left the Victoria and Albert Museum looking for an additional site

According to an insider source, the two residential towers – originally set to be 47 storeys – have been reduced in height as a result of a row over protected views of St Paul’s Cathedral. They are now expected to each be around 20 storeys.

The AJ has learned that the drop in height has affected the rest of the scheme, with another source saying it was ‘likely’ a smaller space would be allocated to the V&A.

The museum is now looking for an additional site nearby – partly as a result of the design revisions – which sources have indicated could be the former 2012 Olympics press centre, Here East.

Hawkins\Brown is currently in the process of transforming this building into a commercial space. 

The two towers had provided the number of homes required by project-backer London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) to help finance the rest of the scheme. Some of this housing has now had to be placed elsewhere on the Olympicopolis site to accommodate the design changes, which could reduce the space available to the V&A. 

A source close to the project said that, although the plans had not been finalised, a deal was expected to be made in the coming months, with a major announcement expected in January. The second public consultation for the project will begin next week.

If this deal goes ahead, it is expected that the V&A will be allocated a shared space with the Smithsonian as part of the Olympicopolis scheme. The Washington-based museum had previously expressed doubts as to whether it would have a presence on the site, which would be its first project outside the US. 

Olympicopolis, also known as the Stratford Waterfront, has been masterplanned by Allies and Morrison working in a team that includes RIBA Gold Medal winner O’Donnell + Tuomey and emerging Spanish talent Arquitecturia. The development will also feature a new space for Sadler’s Wells dance company and a campus for the London College of Fashion. 

The AJ understands that the V&A’s decision to look for an extra east London base has also been driven by the government selling off Blythe House, in west Kensington, which holds parts of its archives. 

In 2015, the government announced it would provide £150 million to fund ‘world-class museum storage facilities’ as a replacement for Blythe House, which also contains collections from the British Museum and Science Museum. 

Responding to the claims, a V&A spokesperson said: ‘We continue to work closely with LLDC as an active partner on the revised masterplan for Stratford Waterfront.

‘Our plans for a jointly curated space with the Smithsonian continue to develop, as does our close collaboration with our other partners on the project: Sadler’s Wells, UAL London College of Fashion and UCL.

‘Separately, the government’s decision to sell Blythe House has presented the V&A with an extraordinary opportunity: to make more of our world-class collections accessible to the public, and to do so in innovative and engaging ways. This has led us to redefine the ambition of the V&A East project; putting our collections at the heart of an expanded brief. This work is ongoing, and we look forward to making announcements when it is complete.’

The LLDC declined to comment. 

The Stratford Waterfront vision was first unveiled by the then London mayor Boris Johnson in 2013, who dubbed the scheme the ’Olympicopolis’. The chancellor at the time, George Osborne, committed £141 million to the project in 2014. It is expected to complete in 2022.

Last year the scheme’s brick and glass designs were heavily criticised by leading architects Peter Cook, Will Alsop and Ian Ritchie, who described the development as ‘dull as ditchwater’, ‘under-amplified Vivaldi’ and ‘tried and tired’.

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