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Weekend roundup: Before we leave Europe, let’s redesign it

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Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Gustafson Porter + Bowman wins Eiffel Tower competition • Housing department calls in ZHA Vauxhall scheme • Snug wins Wall of Answered Prayer contest

Brexit may still be due to take place later this year, but UK practices aren’t letting go lightly of work in Europe. This week, London-based landscape architect Gustafson Porter + Bowman rather impressively won the competition to design a £35 million overhaul of the spaces around the Eiffel Tower

The firm was selected ahead of shortlisted entries from two French practices and an Italian firm as well as Amanda Levete’s AL_A. 

The 324m-tall iron tower is the world’s most visited paid monument and Gustafson Porter + Bowman’s scheme sets out to create a unifying green axis connecting it with other Paris landmarks. Founding partner Kathryn Gustafson described the proposal as ‘the largest garden in Paris’. It is scheduled to complete in 2024 in time for the Paris Olympics. 

Previously, the practice’s most high-profile project was the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park (designed under the name Gustafson Porter). The fountain has been praised for its modest elegance, though it did prove problematic on opening: three people were hospitalised after tripping in the water, and the attraction had to close for 10 months while remedial work took place to roughen up the surfaces. 

Since the Eiffel Tower scheme involves the extension of the Varsovie Fountain area, we must hope that they have now mastered the handling of such features since they will be flying the flag for British design. 

If a UK practice is similarly successful in the competition to redesign Notre Dame Cathedral spire we could see British talent redesigning the French capital even as night falls on opportunities for further transcontinental involvement. 

Many practices are, however, hoping to slip through, Indiana Jones-like, before the Brexit gates slam shut. Architects Registration Board figures showed a surge in the number of British architects looking to practise aboard. 

Between 8 March and 30 April, it received 256 requests for certificates to work overseas. This compares with 223 throughout all of 2018. 

The ARB has confirmed that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal then there will be no automatic right for UK-qualified practitioners to register in the EU. 

Poll: Which European landmark should UK architects tackle next? 
• The Colosseum, Rome 
• The Acropolis, Athens 
• Brandenburg Gate, Berlin 
• Hagia Sophia, Istanbul 
Vote here

Last week’s poll asked: With the news that the number of council-employed architects in London is increasing, who would you rather work for? Only 17 per cent answered ‘a local authority’ just ahead of the 15 per cent wanted to work for a ‘high-profile practice’. In second place, 29 per cent favoured a ‘public-minded practice’ but the most preferred option, with 39 per cent was ‘your own practice’.

Malthouse wades in over ZHA Vauxhall scheme

Zha vauxhall cross island 02 visual by slashcube

Zha vauxhall cross island 02 visual by slashcube

Previous housing ministers have tended only to make headlines on being appointed and then – often less than a year later – on being replaced. 

Credit then to current incumbent Kit Malthouse, who has really set out to make his mark in the job, albeit through ill-informed tweets extolling the virtues of a Neoclassical Alabama courthouse. 

Zaha Hadid Architects is not known for its traditional architecture so is probably not to Malthouse’s taste. Which may partly explain why his department has called in the practice’s proposal for a two-tower development in London’s Vauxhall. 

The £600 million scheme includes a hotel and 257 homes of which 19 per cent would be affordable. Lambeth Council approved the scheme at the end of last year, though in the face of local campaigners who argued it was too big for the site. 

The council, however, argues that it will reshape Vauxhall ‘as a safer, cleaner, more enjoyable place’. 

The council has been asked to demonstrate how the proposal conforms to rules ensuring the vitality of town centres and conserving the historic environment. 

But even if Malthouse and his boss James Brokenshire are pursuing some personal war against modern architecture, are they likely to still be in their jobs after the ministerial reshuffle that will follow Theresa May’s replacement as prime minister? Perhaps ZHA and Lambeth just need to sit tight on this one.

Architect’s prayers are answered

Answered prayer

Answered prayer

There must have been times when those involved in the Wall of Answered Prayer wondered if in fact their spiritual exhortations were falling on deaf ears. 

The plan to build a roadside structure in the Midlands that would rival Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North was first devised in 2003 by Richard Gamble, a former chaplain at Leicester City FC. 

But it took 13 years – till September 2016 – for the concept to develop to the point where an RIBA-organised international competition could be launched to find a design. 

‘Now in just a matter of months we will be able to get an idea of what the Wall of Answered Prayer will look like,’ enthused an excited Gamble at the time. 

Indeed just five months later, five designs had been shortlisted from a total of 134 entries from every continent, as the organisers boasted. 

And then it all went very quiet – for two years and three months. Exactly what the problem was, the wall’s backers aren’t saying. But during this time a group of Danish architects, whose design had won a public vote, decided to walk away from the project. 

Now, however, the judges have chosen the entry by Southampton-based Snug Architects – founded coincidentally the same year that the wall was first conceived.

Their design is based on a möbius strip and is 50m high though less imposing than some of those shortlisted. It will be built on the edge of Birmingham, between the M6, M42 motorways, and be constructed from a million bricks, each one funded by a £10 donation and symbolising a prayer answered. 

The project’s backer, Christian charity network the Evangelical Council for the Manchester Area Trust, says the wall will be completed in 2022.

Also this week



  • The first phase of Diller Scofidio + Renfrew’s elevated green walkway (pictured) in London will open this summer. The 5km-long linear park, near the O2 arena in Greenwich, will be called The Tide. It repeats the concept of the practice’s High Line in New York, but in this case is a new structure rather than a repurposed disused train line. Features will include giant sculptures by Damien Hirst and Allen Jones, sunken gardens and a 27m-long picnic table on the Thames designed by Studio Morison.
  • Grimshaw’s overhaul of London Bridge station has been named Building of the Year in the RIBA London regional awards. It was among 46 projects to win prizes, all of which will now be considered for the RIBA National Awards, announced in June. National winners are then eligible for the shortlist for the Stirling Prize, an accolade Grimshaw has never won though it has twice been shortlisted.
  • Adjaye Associates has revealed designs for a mixed-use building next to Brixton Market. The scheme will include markets and community space on the ground floor and offices above. Adjaye described the project as being about ‘making civic and social spaces that are about bringing in diverse constituents’ and said it was an ‘incredible opportunity to give back to the community’ in south London.
  • Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios has won a competition to masterplan the regeneration of Liverpool’s waterfront district at the heart of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. The practice beat three other shortlisted practices,  BIG, LDA Architects and MICA, to win the £80,000 contract.

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

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