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Weekend roundup: Amazing what you can get for £1.3bn these days

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Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Fosters’ Bloomberg HQ wins Stirling Prize • Caruso St John criticises Museum of Childhood changes • Richard Horden dies • Hopkins ITV building axed • Richard Meier steps down

In the week that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave a dire warning over the effect of climate change if the planet doesn’t become considerably more attentive to environmental concerns, it may have seemed particularly fitting that ‘the most sustainable office building ever’, Foster + Partners’ Bloomberg HQ should win the Stirling Prize. 

And yet we haven’t heard too much applause from environmentalists this week. The building, which received a 98.5 per cent BREEAM Outstanding rating, features an array of energy and water saving measures that mean that in use its carbon footprint will be impressively low. 

But as the Stirling Prize jury’s own environmental adviser Simon Sturgis pointed out ‘for new buildings, operational energy use is now a relatively minor environmental impact. The choice of materials and how they are used are what really matter.’ In the case of Bloomberg, ‘the enormous resources used to create it’ meant, in Sturgis’s view, that ‘it is not a truly sustainable building’. Bet you’re glad you bothered, Simon.

Bloomberg’s victory does not seem to have been a widely popular choice with the profession. Though it narrowly won the RIBA’s People’s Vote, it came last in the AJ readers’ poll, which was topped by MUMA’s Storeys Field community centre in North West Cambridge. 

That scheme was also the favourite of the AJ’s Rob Wilson – who visited all six shortlisted schemes – and architectural consultant Daisy Froud, who appeared on the BBC’s Stirling coverage, and seemed shocked by Bloomberg’s win, describing it as ‘a big clunky building’. Anna Liu, whose practice won the Stephen Lawrence Prize earlier in the evening, called the result ‘disastrous’.

There is certainly an issue about the building’s vast budget. The BBC’s short film about the building opens with Michael Bloomberg being asked how much it cost, to which he replies: ‘I think it was over one and a half – maybe one and three-quarter billion dollars by the time we got done’. 

That’s a quarter of a million dollars (£190 million) he’s not even sure about. The other five shortlisted buildings only cost £56 million between them. 

As Wilson wrote last month, the Stirling judging criteria don’t appear to take budget or value for money into consideration. When you have so much to spend that you can set up a dedicated research centre and reopen a quarry to source the stone then damn right you should end up with an impressive building. 

But shouldn’t the RIBA be getting the message across that hiring an architect isn’t some kind of luxury add-on and can, in fact, be very cost-effective? 

Ultimately the Bloomberg HQ’s true environmental credentials can only be truly judged over the very long term. It stands amid buildings that have been there for over a century. If it can achieve a similar longevity, that will count for something; if it’s demolished in a few decades’ time then all its green innovation will have been meaningless. 

Certainly, though, as you walk towards Cannon Street station with Bloomberg on your right and another Foster creation, the Walbrook, on your left, the difference between the latter’s polymer cladding and the stone of the former is marked. Bloomberg does look built to last. 

Norman’s a no-show

Bloomberg aaronhargreaves

Bloomberg aaronhargreaves

Bloomberg is Foster + Partners’ third Stirling win, moving it ahead of Rogers, WilkinsonEyre and ZHA, which have all won twice. It’s also the first office building to win the prize since 2004 when the Gherkin won it – also by Fosters. 

The UK’s largest architectural practice has now been shortlisted for the Stirling 10 times. Perhaps you become blasé once you reach double figures. How else to explain the absence of Norman Foster from the awards ceremony? 

Another notable no-show was chair of the judges David Adjaye, who had apparently hot-footed it to India once the winner had been chosen, but whose absence RIBA president Ben Derbyshire made quite a point of drawing to everyone’s attention, commenting: ‘I think he should be here tonight, don’t you?’ 

Derbyshire also took advantage of the presence at the awards evening of housing secretary James Brokenshire, stressing how damaging a ‘bad Brexit’ could be for UK architecture. 

Brokenshire himself was highly complimentary of the profession, telling the audience ‘you are the guardians of quality. So often the difference between the ugly and the beautiful isn’t because of “good architect vs bad architect” but rather a case of there being little or no architect at all.’ 

Which makes a refreshing contrast to his fellow Tory MP, former transport minister John Hayes. At last week’s party conference, Hayes told a fringe meeting held at Mecanoo’s Library of Birmingham that ‘there is barely a building in Birmingham that shouldn’t be demolished … This monstrosity that we are sat in is a perfect example. This is an appalling building. It is disharmonious. It is a disgrace.’ 

Poll: How do you feel about the Bloomberg HQ winning the Stirling? 
• The best building won 
• If not the best, it’s a worthy winner 
• A disappointing choice 
• An appalling choice 
Vote here 

Last week’s poll asked what the government should do next to improve the UK’s housing stock. ‘Always use architects’ was the, perhaps predictably, top choice.

Poll results

Poll results

Playground squabble at Museum of Childhood

Va childhood dematosryan (1)

Va childhood dematosryan (1)

‘It is not cool for architects to complain about changes to their buildings,’ said Peter St John this week before clearly concluding that coolness is overrated and laying into De Matos Ryan’s proposed changes to Caruso St John’s extension to the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. 

Caruso St John carried out £4.7 million of renovations to the original 1872 building 12 years ago, notably adding an entrance building to the museum’s front façade. At the time the practice explained that when the museum was originally built, a lack of funds meant the architect’s plans for the museum’s façade were never carried out, leaving the building without a proper entrance and front-of-house facilities. 

Even though Caruso St John’s work is barely a decade old, the practice agrees that the V&A’s investment in the museum is ‘much needed’. But St John believes the planned changes to the outside, including a basement entrance, will adversely affect the building’s symmetry. ‘we think the significant changes proposed to the front are not appropriate,’ he said. 

His view was echoed by Architecture Foundation chief Ellis Woodman, who said ‘Caruso St John’s project is, in effect, a portico, so adding a porch to one side feels highly tautological.’ He concluded: ‘The new entrance would ‘mess up a very fine work of architecture’.

Defending the scheme, the V&A said the basement entrance would improve accessibility for large school groups and parents with buggies. De Matos Ryan, meanwhile, seemed to be suggesting the row could be blamed on the visualisations for its scheme, tweeting that the concept image concealed the existence of a ramp to the upper level. 

Also this week

  • Horden Cherry Lee chairman Richard Horden has died at the age of 73. Before setting up his own practice, Horden worked for such architectural luminaries as Terry Farrell, Nicholas Grimshaw and Norman Foster. He was perhaps best known for creating the Micro Compact Home, a dwelling for one or two people in a 2.66m cube, each costing £35,000, which could be adapted to a variety of sites. In 2005, a trial village of the homes was created in Munich. 
  • ITV has scrapped plans for a Hopkins-designed headquarters building on London’s South Bank. Earlier this year, Lambeth Council had approved plans to demolish the 1974 London Television Centre and replace it with the Hopkins scheme, comprising two towers of 31 and 14 storeys, a project that prompted objections from the Twentieth Century Society and Historic England. But now the broadcaster has decided to sell the site instead and remain in temporary offices in Holburn and White City. 
  • US architect Richard Meier has stepped down as principal of his practice amid allegations of sexual harassment. Back in March, the firm announced that Meier was taking a six-month leave of absence after the New York Times reported detailed allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards five different women, including exposing himself in his apartment. The practice’s long-standing design leader Bernhard Karpf has been made managing principal of its New York headquarters and will manage the firm.

Simon Aldous’s Weekend Roundup is emailed exclusively to AJ subscribers every Saturday morning. Click here to find out more about our subscription packages

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