This summer’s biggest stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous Taha’s Clerkenwell Close building saved • New HLM hospital in danger • HS2 in question • Grimshaw boss calls for 1980s Homebase to be reused • Architects to strike over climate crisis • Tintagel footbridge completes
Amin Taha’s 15 Clerkenwell Close building looks to have been saved. The building, which combines flats with Taha’s architecture studio, won an RIBA National Award last year. But Islington Council had ordered it be demolished, claiming it differed from the designs that it had approved.
Taha appealed the order and a planning inspector has now backed him. The inspector accepted that there was an ambiguity over exactly what Islington had approved, but said he did not believe the building was harmful to the conservation area in which it stands.
All wasn’t entirely plain sailing for Taha though. The inspector has ordered several alterations to the building, and described the ‘sawn faces’ on one of the elevations as ‘intrusive and prominent’. He has ordered the architect to explore ways he could ‘tool’ the surfaces to bring them in line with the building’s rougher columns and beams.
Taha appeared slightly baffled by this condition since he said Islington’s planning committee chair Martin Klute – a prominent critic of the building who had described it as hideous – had previously requested that everything be smooth. Nevertheless, he said he was ‘extremely happy and very relieved’ by the ruling.
Possibly looking less likely to survive is HLM Architects’ not-quite-complete £150 million children’s hospital in Edinburgh. There are fears the whole thing may have to be taken down before it has even opened, amid health and safety concerns.
Trade union official Tom Waterson said that there were concerns about the drainage at the new Royal Hospital for Children and Young People. He added that the problems had been first identified three years ago, but contractors had pressed ahead regardless, and he speculated that it might not be possible to repair the issue without ‘ripping down’ the building.
The hospital’s opening has already been delayed after safety checks revealed concerns with the ventilation system in the critical care department. HLM has declined to comment on either issue.
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Wondering whether their projects will ever even break ground will be Fosters, Grimshaw and WilkinsonEyre, all who were set to design stations for the High Speed 2 railway line.
The future of the UK’s biggest infrastructure project appears to be in the balance after prime minister Boris Johnson announced a review into its viability which could lead to the project being scrapped.
The line’s current budget is £56 billion but many believe this will increase to £86 billion, and Johnson himself has speculated that it could exceed £100 billion.
The review body’s deputy chair is Labour peer and vocal HS2 critic Tony Berkeley – though the committee also includes champions of the scheme, including Birmingham metropolitan mayor Andy Street, who argues that the line is absolutely vital to the East Midlands.
UK intercity rail services seem woefully slow compared with those of other countries. On the other hand, the reduction in journey time to Birmingham is not that impressive. As Viz comic’s handy hints section joked: ‘London businessmen – save the government billions of pounds building a high-speed rail link to Birmingham by arranging your meeting in Birmingham 20 minutes later’.
However HS2’s chief purpose – particularly for the initial Birmingham-London phase, is not to cut journey times but to increase capacity. And if the trains run faster, then capacity increases as more trains can run per hour.
And while the cost is vast, the hope is that it will more than paid for itself in its boost to the overall economy. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to ask whether that money could be invested more effectively elsewhere, for example by building a cross-Pennine link linking Leeds with Manchester.
Another question worth asking is why, at £105 million per km (based on the £56 million budget), the cost of HS2 compares so poorly with high-speed lines in other countries. Taking into account inflation, France’s most expensive TGV line cost only £16.9 million – a sixth of the price.
Some have argued that putting stations in city centres – and particularly running the line into central London – unnecessarily ramps up the cost. Others say that too much of the line is set to run underground, which ramps costs up considerably but appeases many living in southern rural areas – ie Tory heartlands.
Could the prime minister’s qualms be partly down to political expediency? Right now it’s prudent to be seen to publicly question the project. But following a post-Brexit snap election that he hopes will give him a substantial parliamentary majority, he may feel in a stronger position to proceed with the project – maybe with fewer tunnels to reduce the price.
Grimshaw’s chairman, Andrew Whalley, has strongly criticised plans to demolish a Homebase superstore his practice designed in the 1980s.
The proposals for property developer St Edward, part of Berkeley Group, would replace Grimshaw’s High-Tech building with a Tesco Extra and homes by Patel Taylor. An existing Tesco Extra nearby would, meanwhile, be demolished to make way for housing designed by HTA Design.
Whalley worked on the design of the Homebase in his first job for the practice. He has called the latest proposal ‘short-sighted and unsustainable’ for demolishing one superstore and replacing it with another. Writing in the AJ, he argued that the store had been ‘conceived to be as flexible as possible to ensure the accommodation of future use’.
The Twentieth Century Society included the Homebase on its recent Top 10 Buildings at Risk list and has submitted a listing request.
Berkeley meanwhile argued that the store lacked ‘sufficient special interest to satisfy the statutory requirement for listing’ and said blocking its proposal would prevent an opportunity to deliver more than 2,250 new homes.
In one of his last acts as RIBA president, Ben Derbyshire has called for architects to go on strike on 20 September as a protest at the climate emergency.
Does it mark a return to the heady days of the 1970s, when industrial action stuck it to the man on a regular basis, as well as causing periodic shortages of bread, sugar and toilet paper – as well as power cuts? (All of which we can also expect after 31 October).
Already Bennetts Associates, Chetwoods and Mole Architects have said they will be coming out in solidarity. Though as the practice bosses are supporting the action it’s not the normal sort of industrial action.
Rather they will be joining in with a day of global protest in solidarity with the Fridays for Future schools strikes originally initiated by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
Bennetts said it hoped its staff would spend the day supporting the protest movement as well as focusing on how it could ‘ratchet up our ambition to reduce emissions across our projects’.
There’s an exciting new visitor attraction in Cornwall this summer. Tintagel Castle, which sits on a peninsula on the coutny’s north coast is now accessible by a £4 million footbridge.
The new crossing, designed by Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates, sits 57m above sea level and means it is no longer necessary to climb 148 steps to reach the attraction.
It spans more than 70m, based on two cantilevers which almost touch in the middle, with a gap of around 4cm between them. Its surface meanwhile, consists of 40,000 locally sourced slate stiles, stacked vertically in stainless-steel trays.
The bridge was partly funded by a £2.5 million from the Julia and Hans Rausing Trust, whose fortune comes from the Tetra Pak food packaging company.
The castle, now managed by English Heritage, was built in the 13th century but is associated with the legendary King Arthur, with accounts describing Tintagel as the place of his conception. It is now managed by English Heritage but is owned by a future king, Prince Charles, through the Duchy of Cornwall.