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Wilford: 'Claims Stirling was unhappy with Poultry are wrong'

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Michael Wilford has hit back at claims that designs for No.1 Poultry were incomplete and that James Stirling was unhappy with parts of the plans at the time of his death

The architect is among the 19 members of the original design team behind the 1990s Post-modern icon who are urging Historic England to list the City of London office block in a bid to stop ‘insulting’ redevelopment plans by Buckley Gray Yeoman (BGY).

Construction work on scheme did not begin until 1994, two years after Stirling’s death in 1992, and in recent weeks questions have been raised about whether the completed building represented Stirling’s true intentions.

Earlier this month Matt Yeoman of BGY said that the practice’s proposed alterations would have been ‘unnecessary’ because, had Stirling lived to finish the building, he ‘would have addressed the building’s problems during the design phase’. 

Then Tom Muirhead, a long-term collaborator with Stirling, wrote to the AJ, saying: ‘When I look at No. 1 Poultry I see the well-meaning approximation or simulacrum of a James Stirling building completed by acolytes, who must admit that they could not possibly have known what he might have done.

‘[Everyone] who knew Jim would agree that if he himself had taken command of the detailed design of Poultry and its construction on site, with his usual resoluteness, it would be profoundly different from what we see today.’

In response Stirling’s former partner Wilford, who worked on the building’s planning and detailed drawings in the late 1980s, has sought to torpedo claims the designs were ‘incomplete’ and that Stirling was ‘dissatisfied with aspects’ of the proposals.

He said: ‘I can confirm that [these] assertions are untrue, misrepresent the status of the project at the time and are self-serving.

‘[The] design was developed to an unprecedented level of detail and subjected to forensic scrutiny by the City Planners and two public enquiries in which Stirling gave evidence and answered questions.

‘Drawings and models were not released from the office unless Stirling was satisfied with them.’

Axonometric of No1 Poultry - James Stirling

Axonometric of No1 Poultry - James Stirling

The full text of the letter

Dear editor,

I wish to comment on recently published assertions made by some parties that the design of No.1 Poultry was incomplete at the time of James Stirling’s death and that he was dissatisfied with aspects of it.

It is well documented and recently confirmed by those involved that the design was developed to an unprecedented level of detail and subjected to forensic scrutiny by the City Planners and two public enquiries in which James Stirling gave evidence and answered questions.

I worked alongside James Stirling for over 30 years (in partnership for 21 years) and participated in the meticulous design process which the office employed for each project. Ideas and decisions were sequentially layered over each other, obviating the need for subsequent changes and avoiding the occurrence of doubt and dissatisfaction with the design. Drawings and models were not released from the office unless James Stirling was satisfied with them.

From a first-hand position I can confirm that the assertions are untrue, misrepresent the status of the project at the time and are self-serving.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Wilford

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

Yeoman

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)

 

Wilford: 'Claims Stirling was unhappy with Poultry are wrong'

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