This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous Beauty Commission publishes interim report • Old Oak Common megaproject under threat • Bogus architect fined £10,000 • Recent buildings feature on at-risk list
On the face of it, the aims of the government’s beauty commission might seem laudable: to ensure that in tackling the major shortage of homes, aesthetic considerations do not go by the wayside.
Yet its launch last year seemed designed to put as many architects’ backs up as possible – from appointing the divisive figure of Roger Scruton as its chair, to housing minister Kit Malthouse’s provocative and wrongheaded tweet.
If the government is serious about improving the built environment – as opposed to making reactionary gestures – then it needs to have architects on side, as Malthouse’s boss James Brokenshire has himself said. And there’s no reason for architects to object to much of the Building Beautiful, Building Better Commission’s initial findings, as published this week in its interim report.
In its examples of good recent architecture, along with the inevitable inclusion of Poundbury, it also cites Mole Architects’ Marmalade Lane and the Stirling-winning Accordia – both in Cambridge – and Ash Sakula’s The Malings in Newcastle – none of which could be described as ‘traditionalist’. And not an Alabama courthouse to be seen.
The commission does attempt to quantify the attributes that define beauty – favouring the fine grain of what it calls ‘Lego development’ as opposed to lumpy ‘Duplo development’. But it also blames ‘ugly’ buildings on a planning and land market system that favours volume housebuilders. This, it argues, ‘does not encourage coherent placemaking or stewardship of the result’ and fosters a scenario where existing residents feel new developments are dumped down on them from on high with little consideration for locality.
It also calls for the scrapping of VAT on retrofit and refurbishment projects. At present these are subject to the full 20 per cent tax rate, while new-build is exempt, a situation it points out disincentivises preserving existing buildings as well as having serious environmental implications.
Strangely though, on the eve of the report’s publication, the commission chose to publicise its call for councils to name and shame examples of ugly schemes they had turned down – a fairly meaningless suggestion that gave little flavour of the full report but proceeded to receive most of the headlines.
But it should be stressed that despite the commission’s Conservative credentials, its proposals are a far cry from laissez-faire free-market capitalism. There is no talk of relaxing the planning process, as favoured by many on the right; and plenty about more local involvement in decisions and an emphasis on masterplanning rather than piecemeal decisions.
Indeed, its conclusions have been broadly welcomed by RIBA president Ben Derbyshire as well as Design Council chief executive Sarah Weir.
Poll: Which of these beauty commission recommendations do you most welcome?
• Scrapping VAT on retrofit
• Naming and shaming rejected ugly buildings
• More emphasis on masterplanning
• None, they’re all bat-shit crazy
Update: airports and ethics
The Weekend Roundup’s previous poll asked: Should architectural practices that have pledged to address the climate emergency be seeking work designing airports? While only 26% gave an unequivocal ‘yes’, 42% were happy to proceed with the proviso ‘only if low-carbon design’ – possibly missing the point that it’s not really the airport buildings’ sustainability that’s the issue here.
Meanwhile, for those under the impression that irony was about rain on your wedding day, news that Heathrow is taking the climate crisis into consideration with its planned expansion – set to increase the UK’s total CO2 emissions from air travel from 37 million to 43 million tonnes a year. The airport says the designs for the new buildings will take into account the expected increase in heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods set to result from global warming.
Not so long ago, Old Oak Common was being heralded as one of the UK’s largest regeneration projects. ‘We’re creating a whole new borough,’ proclaimed Liz Peace this time two years ago. The chair of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) enthused about the 25,500 homes and 65,000 jobs that would be created by the £1 billion scheme.
A design team led by AECOM with Asif Khan, BIG, Maccreanor Lavington and WilkinsonEyre was appointed in 2017 to masterplan the huge former industrial site in west London, which centres around a new rail interchange. As well as featuring two new London Overground stations, it is the only place where Crossrail and HS2 connect.
But two years on, progress is looking decidedly shaky with a major landowner disputing the local plan, TfL unwilling to fund the Overground stations, and doubts over the future of HS2, around which the whole project hinges.
Speaking at the London Assembly earlier this month, Peace admitted that the Overground stations, Old Oak Common and Hythe Road, were likely to be scrapped owing to Transport for London’s lack of funds. Since only last month, TfLditched a proposed £600 million pedestrian and cycle bridge at Rotherhithe in favour of a ferry service this should perhaps not be a surprise.
Meanwhile, used-car dealer Cargiant, a major owner of land earmarked for the development, has challenged the local plan, saying the proposal for 25,500 homes is unviable. The scheme cannot progress until an agreement is reached, though the mayor of London was not ruling out a compulsory purchase of the land.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle could prove to be the next prime minister’s attitude to HS2. At this week’s debate between the two Tory leadership candidates, frontrunner Boris Johnson refused to commit to the high-speed rail scheme. Asked whether the scheme should be scrapped, Johnson, with the degree of clarity he is famed for, replied ‘no’ before adding that he would analyse the scheme, and see instead if the money could be spent elsewhere.
Peace believes that if HS2 is scrapped, it is doubtful TfL will still want a Crossrail station at Old Oak Common since the very point is to have an interchange.
‘The whole premise of the OPDC development is based around the interchange between HS2 and Crossrail,’ she said last month. ‘If there is neither station, then the rationale of the OPDC does somewhat change.’
Shutterstock colchester court
Magistrates have fined Andrew Feasey and his firm CPS Architecture + Design £10,000 for misusing the title ‘architect’.
The Architects Registration Board said they had contacted Feasey on several occasions regarding his use of the word ‘architect’ despite not being on its register.
The court also imposed a victim surcharge of £100 and costs of £2,389.70. This however pales in comparison with the record fine given out for such offences. In January 2018, a non-architect had to pay £23,700 plus costs of £5,825 at Luton Magistrates’ Court after being convicted of 12 counts of misusing the title.
Last September the ARB estimated there were 7,500 cases of individuals falsely claiming to be architects.
Feasey, however, seemed to be of the view he’d been stitched up like a kipper. ‘We don’t advertise as “architects” and never have,’ he told the AJ. He blamed the breaches on errors by a ‘former accounts and media company’.
Looking at CPS’s website, the word ‘architect’ is reassuringly absent, though it does make mention of being ‘centrally located in Colchester, forefront of the profession’. So whichever profession it is claiming to be part of, it seems fair to say that it certainly isn’t architecture.
The Twentieth Century Society has issued its latest Top 10 Buildings at Risk List, notable for its inclusion of two buildings completed in the past two decades.
The British Film Institute’s IMAX cinema in Waterloo was designed by the late Bryan Avery and opened in 1999, winning a Millennium Design Award from the Design Council. While still in operation, its site has been identified by Lambeth Council as suitable for a tall building.
Meanwhile, Long & Kentish’s British Library Centre for Conservation was only completed in 2007, but is under threat of demolition to make way for a temporary compound for construction of Crossrail 2.
Topping the list, however, is Grade II*-listed Richmond House, the 1980s Whitehall office block set to be turned into a temporary House of Commons with all but its façade demolished. The society’s previous at-risk register was published in January 2017. Of the 10 buildings included, two appear to have been saved, two face imminent demolition and the other six remain at risk.
Twentieth Century Society director Catherine Croft commented: ‘While listing used to protect our best historic buildings for posterity, today gaining consent to demolish them is becoming just a minor inconvenience for determined developers.’
Also this week
- David Adjaye’s Wakefield Market Hall in West Yorkshire has been saved from demolition after the council decided to reuse the structure instead of turning it into a cinema. Wakefield Council’s cabinet voted last July to pull down all buildings on the site except the distinctive canopy from the scheme completed in 2008. But the developer failed to progress the project and the council has now decided to reverse its decision to sell the site. The building will now be used to house a creativity and innovation hub.
- Roz Barr Architects has been chosen to overhaul the Victoria & Albert Museum’s fashion gallery. The practice beat entries by Farshid Moussavi, Alison Brooks, 6a architects, Ab Rogers Design, and Pernilla Ohrstedt Studio. The scheme will redesign the exhibition spaces, which showcase the V&A’s collection of 14,000 outfits dating from 1600 to the present day. It is understood the design contract for the project is worth £450,000.
- Hawkins\Brown’s overhaul of Reading University’s ‘Lego Building’ has been put on hold. The practice won a £670,000 contract in 2015 to retrofit the landmark 1970s Brutalist building, designed by Howell, Killick, Partridge & Amis. But this week the university announced it was launching a new contest for a £50,000-£60,000 contract to deliver a ’cosmetic’ upgrade, instead of a major refurbishment.