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Piers Gough slams demolition of Richmond House to create Parliament’s new home

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Architect Piers Gough has called for the government to re-think the ‘criminal’ demolition of the Grade II*-listed Richmond House to make way for a temporary House of Commons

The architect, a founding partner of CZWG, criticised the government’s ‘outrageous arrogance’ as he backed a campaign by SAVE Britain’s Heritage to preserve the Whitfield Partners-designed  PoMo building within Parliament’s Northern Estate.

As part of a wider BDP-led decant of the Palace of Westminster to allow for its refurbishment, only the Whitehall façade of the 1980s building would be retained under a Parliament-backed proposal to transform it into a House of Commons chamber and office space for hundreds of MPs and support staff, designed by AHMM.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage and The Twentieth Century Society have called for alternative, less expensive and less destructive proposals to be considered.

Earlier this year, SAVE published proposals, drawn up by Ian Chalk Architects, for ‘pop-up’ chambers for the House of Commons and the House of Lords to be built within the courtyards of HM Treasury and the Foreign Office. It also presented Foster + Partners’ previously prepared alternative of a temporary Parliament building on Horse Guards Parade and Hopkins Architects’ design for a Commons chamber within the existing Portcullis House atrium. 

The Twentieth Century Society named Richmond House its most important at-risk building last month

In a statement of support for SAVE’s campaign, Gough, a former commissioner of English Heritage, said: ‘For the government to demolish one of their own Grade II*-listed buildings is outrageous arrogance. To do it for self serving short-term reasons is criminal. The mendacity in bypassing their own strictures on best use of listed buildings could not be setting a more ominous precedent. Office buildings are not a redundant type in Whitehall.’

Richmond House is the finest example of a civic building of the Postmodern period

Gough said the RIBA award-winning Richmond House, built to the designs of William Whitfield, was ‘the finest example of a civic building of the Postmodern period’.

He added: ‘The interiors and exteriors are in complete harmony. They demonstrate a most compelling architectural intellect and skill in synthesising the modern with the rich and complex history of the surroundings. A powerful statement but palpably deferential to context and at a humane scale.

‘Post-war listings in such a high grade are very few and hard to achieve. They have equal stature with all periods at Grade II*.’

Richmond house edmund harris

Richmond house edmund harris

Source: Edmund Harris

Richmond House - Grade II* listed

Gough pointed out that, having occupied the building, the government listed it. He said: ‘This might seem pyrrhic when they are the ultimate guardians of their own heritage. But it was to prevent in advance any generation expediently tempted, through contempt for the recent and familiar, to such casual destruction as now proposed.’

He said that offering no alternative options ‘shows an egregious contempt for the views of the public’ and that the project should be cancelled, with other ‘non-destructive’ options debated.

A spokesperson for the Northern Estate Programme previously told the AJ that, following a year-long inquiry by the joint committee on the Palace of Westminster, all the alternative plots proposed by SAVE had been looked at and ruled out. The temporary relocation of the House of Commons to Richmond House was deemed the ‘best solution’.

The spokesperson added: ‘We believe it is absolutely right that taxpayers’ money should be spent carefully and with long-term public benefit in mind, given the sums involved. The new building at Richmond House will create a permanent legacy, as opposed to the use of temporary structures, which would need to be removed later, once the chamber was relocated back into the Palace of Westminster.’

An application for planning approval is expected to be submitted to Westminster City Council in the autumn.

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • Piers, seconded !

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  • Clare Richards

    I absolutely agree with Piers Gough. The arrogance and double-standards of this decision are staggering! Where are the voices of MPs who should be opposing it?

    Quite apart from the reasons stated in the article, there is the sustainability argument. Any assessment of the embodied energy and environmental impact of a) demolishing, b) rebuilding c) remodelling once the temporary use of the new building is over, would surely demonstrate that the use of Richmond House by a Government serious about climate change is unethical and unacceptable.

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  • Piers Gough reflects perfectly my concern at the potential loss of William Whitfields building. I have experienced first hand the intellect, skill and the forensic research that defined his work. Richmond House must not be lost .

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  • I agree with Piers Gough. In the first place the HOP should not be refurbished using taxpayers money but privately and a beautiful, listed, building such as Richmond House should be saved. The HOP should be moved to the Midland and a new modern building should be built there as this 19c pile has outlived its usefulness and deserves another use like being converted to a tourist attraction, hotel or flats.

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  • Just because it's the 'best solution' for the Northern Estate Programme doesn't mean it's justifiable. It's laughable that they attempt to justify this on the basis that the new building will be a 'permanent legacy'. What, until they want to change it again? If a Grade II* listing doesn't protect the legacy of building Richmond House in the first place, what will be different about the replacement building? Presumably they will argue in their application that 'the substantial harm is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits that outweigh the harm or the loss'. They're going to have to work very hard to demonstrate that the same benefits can't reasonably be achieved in other ways, without the same level of loss.

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  • Piers Gough is absolutely right -- Richmond House is an exquisite building in a very good state. Deathmasking it would disconnect the street elevation from its seldom seen but wonderful interior, as its current, commensurate scale would have to be drastically enlarged to fit in not only a full-size replica of the Commons chamber, but also the lobbies. That part of the programme also show how fatuous the claims of a permanent legacy made by Northern Estate Programme are. The replica chamber would have to demolished after the Commons moves back to the Palace of Westminster. There will be no legacy, just irresponsible waste.

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