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RetroFirst: Architect behind 1970s college calls for retrofit over demolition

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Architect Bob Giles has called on the government to stop the demolition of Hammersmith & Fulham College – the 1970s block he designed – and fund its retrofit instead

The 23,000m² building was designed by Giles when he was at the Greater London Council in the 1960s. The building, on Gliddon Road near Barons Court Tube station, completed in 1980.

It is now part of the cash-strapped West London College group, which has hired Atkins to draw up plans for a £500 million mixed-use development of the site in an alleged bid to plug a hole in its finances.

An application to list Giles’s building fell through after Historic England ruled that it did not demonstrate ‘the degree of innovation in design and execution necessary for a building of this type to be listed’.

Although an appeal of the decision is being considered – alongside a request from the college to grant a certificate of immunity from listing – campaigners including Giles are making the case for the government and the college to call off demolition.

Two celebrity alumni of the college – comedian Marcus Brigstocke and Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine – have thrown their weight behind the campaign to save the building, while local resident and Earl of Caithness Malcolm Sinclair has also pledged his support.

What credibility does the government’s green agenda have when they allow a public institution to demolish a viable building?

West London College had a deficit of almost £2.5 million last year, according to its latest accounts. In 2018, the Further Education Commissioner accused it of ‘chronic weakness in financial leadership’ and noted that planned budget deficits were set to erode the college’s cash position.

Giles suggests the shortfall is the key reason behind the development plans, with Atkins’ redevelopment set to include flats for private sale.

‘If this college was to remain as an education institution, you certainly wouldn’t start by knocking it down,’ he said.

‘You’d be looking to retrofit it and you would appoint someone like Allies and Morrison – some sensitive architects – because it’s 40 years old, has issues regarding insulation, and does need a complete refurbishment.’

Giles added: ‘But that would be fraction of the investment needed to rebuild the college and would be much better for the environment.’

The college’s chief executive and principal Karen Redhead did not confirm or deny that development plans were linked to the college’s financial problems, but told the AJ that the building had not ‘stood the tests of time’.

In a statement, she said a new, smaller building could be built without borrowing and would be cheaper to maintain and better suited to the college’s requirements. 

Giles said he supported The AJ’s RetroFirst campaign, which asks government to promote retrofit over demolition in their own procurement and by changing the building regulations. 

‘What credibility does the government’s green agenda have when they allow a public institution to demolish a viable building?’ he asked.

Historic England is due to submit its advice on the certificate of listing for the building on 13 February.

Atkins declined to comment. 

Statement from the principal of West London College

The college’s redevelopment plan allows us to provide outstanding education and skills training that is fit for the 21st century. The energy efficiency and design of the new building will ensure that we can make considerable savings in running and maintenance costs, whilst reducing our overall carbon footprint.

The proposed development will also provide access to facilities for local residents, including a training restaurant and a hair and beauty salon, offering cut-price meals and treatments. We are also investing heavily in landscaping in excess of requirements and expectations, with a new public park to the south of the site and new gathering spaces in the heart of the development for the local community to enjoy.

The existing building has not stood the test of time, with repair and maintenance costs that should not have been necessary for a building of its age. It is also much bigger than we need or use, with almost 50 per cent of space being surplus to requirements. The release of excess space, to provide much needed affordable housing, will ensure that the new campus is right-sized and can be built to a high architectural standard without a requirement for borrowing.

This planned redevelopment is fundamental to the college’s vision to become the best provider of education and skills training in west London, and this is why we have applied for a certificate of immunity from listing. The development will rejuvenate the neighbourhood as well as benefiting many thousands of students for generations to come.

Karen Redhead, chief executive and principal, West London College 

RetroFirst Logos 2019 4

RetroFirst Logos 2019 4

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Readers' comments (3)

  • It would indeed be a great pity to demolish this significant post-war building, as one would of hoped that the buildings owner would of had a more enlightened outlook, both to the green benefits of an environmental led retrofit, but also to keeping and cherishing such a significant modernist building.

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  • If you can’t retrofit this estate it is proof that this is a meaningless policy. So much that could be done to improve its relationship with the surrounding area.

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  • Karen Redhead’s comment that Hammersmith College buildings have not stood the test of time does not reflect the reality of an extremely robust structure clad in low-maintenance engineering bricks including paving, which have withstood very well years of neglect. As a building 40 years in age its adaptable layout would lend itself well to an upgrade to enhance its environmental performance. As to the excess of space, it is unsurprising that applicants’ role has fallen in the light of uncertainty regarding the accommodation and the starvation by central government of funds to the F.E. education sector, however there are signs that this may be about to change.

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