Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Country houses • Row over RIBA honorary fellowship • Government to appoint head of architecture • Museum’s insurance blunder
A couple of country houses have hit the headlines this week. The RIBA House of the Year award went to Haysom Ward Miller Architects’ timber-built Lochside House (top left) in the Scottish highlands.
And former FAT director Charles Holland won the go-ahead for his current practice to build a ‘country house clause’ home (top right) in rural Kent. There’s definitely something quite FAT-like about the design; its large windows of varying shapes may remind older readers of the Play School house.
The site is close to a Grade II*-listed manor house, and his practice, Charles Holland Architects, describes the house as ‘a mannerist inversion of its 17th-century neighbour’ with a front elevation ‘characterised by an exaggerated catslide roof of peg tiles that comes down almost to the ground’.
And in a tribute to two of Holland’s architectural heroes, images of Postmodernist pioneers Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi have been sneakily placed in some of the visualisations for the scheme.
The house is set to be built within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and was originally refused permission by Dover District Council. But it has been rescued on appeal by the planning inspector, who said the design had ‘clearly been the subject of a rigorous and scholarly process, and in itself is both outstanding and innovative’.
The country house clause of the National Planning Policy Framework allows one-off homes in open countryside provided they are of ‘outstanding’ design quality. But surely what we all really want to know is: what would Roger Scruton think of it?
It’s a far cry from the Modernist architecture he so abhors, and it won’t have much built environment to politely blend in with. On the other hand, this might not be quite the ‘style’ Scruton is going to war for, having previously described Postmodernism as ‘pre-emptive kitsch’.
Poll: If you were to have a house in the country, which would you favour?
• The RIBA House of the Year timber Highlands Hideaway
• Charles Holland postmodernism
• Traditional Victorian
• Heavily glazed modern
Last week’s poll asked what Foster + Partners’ proposed 305mm-tall tower most resembled. And in a sad reflection of my readership’s maturity, the clear winner was ‘a male appendage’. The result prompted one Ella Hant to suggest that ‘some need to go back to school and study anatomy’.
Poll result tulip
Meanwhile, I have been asked to make it clear that the developer behind Foster + Partners’ Tulip proposal is the J Safra Group, owned by billionaire banker Joseph Safra, and not Jacob Safra, as I originally stated, but who is in fact Joseph’s father. The confusion arose because the project press release quoted Jacob rather than Joseph. (Whether either of them owns a coat of many colours is left unsaid). It is, it must be said, quite unusual for a press release to quote the developer’s dad.
Patty Hopkins in row over RIBA honorary fellowship
Patty and the sheikh
The integrity of the RIBA honorary fellowships has been called into question after the sheikh ruler of the United Arab Emirates city of Sharjah was awarded a fellowship earlier this year.
At the time few took notice of the decision, with most attention being paid to the inclusion of the Serpentine Galleries’ Yana Peel and Illuminated River Foundation director Sarah Gaventa.
However, some investigation by the AJ has led to an interesting revelation about Patty Hopkins – founding partner of Hopkins Architects.
She was one of a five-strong RIBA committee that selected the fellows but is also seemingly working on two projects for the sheikh: a geological museum and a turtle sanctuary. Which sounds to many like a bit of a conflict of interest.
Hopkins Architects has been reluctant to discuss the situation with the AJ, but RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said that no conflicts of interest had been declared during the discussion on fellowships. He added: ‘We understand from Hopkins Architects that Sheikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi is not a client of theirs.’
Which all seems a little … what’s the word? … disingenuous of Hopkins. The practice’s website says the geological museum is ‘for the ruler of Sharjah’ (ie the sheikh) while the sheikh’s own website reports him launching the museum scheme in January and ‘personally supervising’ development of the turtle sanctuary.
And indeed, if it isn’t the sheikh who’s commissioning these major Sharjah projects, what the hell is the RIBA doing giving him an honorary fellowship?
All this is before we get into the whole matter of the ethics of honouring UAE leaders. Amnesty International says its authorities ‘arbitrarily restrict freedoms of expression and association’ and, ‘imprison government critics’. Though since the RIBA is planning to open an office in the UAE, that might have seen somewhat hypocritical grounds on which to bar the honour.
The AJ’s Paul Finch thinks the whole furore is ‘a bit weird’, arguing that architects nominate people they’ve worked for as RIBA Client of the Year. But surely that’s a bit different from a member of the judging panel having a professional relationship with one of the nominees – and then failing to mention it.
Former RIBA president Jack Pringle and as well as architect Simon Foxell, a member of the RIBA’s new ethics commission no less, have both agreed that further enquiry by the institute is required.
Readers will remember that Patty Hopkins made the news earlier this year when she was a late addition to the jury for Ipswich’s Upper Orwell Crossings competition, joining her husband Michael in assisting in Foster + Partners’ win by giving it 10/10 for almost every scoring criterion.
Museum’s insurance blunder
Horniman museum image by mike peel
The Horniman Museum has moved swiftly to head off a potential backlash against its search for an architect to remasterplan its Grade II*-listed Arts-and-Crafts-style home in south-east London.
The original bid notice stipulated that the practice must have £10 million of professional indemnity insurance cover. But following complaints that this was an onerous and unnecessary requirement, the museum has checked its figures and announced that, whoops, it accidentally added an extra zero to the figure, and £1 million of insurance will be just fine.
And while you’re there, it also seems to have made a mistake with the fee, which is in fact £20,000 rather than the £10,000 originally stated. Looks like someone could do with a proof-reader!
Russell Curtis of procurement reform group Project Compass, however, remained unhappy, arguing that the fee was still too low for the work involved and would ‘remain a significant disincentive for most practices’.
Will head of architecture be a challenge to Scruton?
Hot on the heels of making Roger Scruton its ‘housing tsar’, the government has announced it is looking to appoint a head of architecture ‘with a proven track record of delivering quality housing schemes’.
The move seems to follow on from housing secretary James Brokenshire’s words on the importance of using architects if we are to have well-designed buildings. It’s also a welcome step in reversing the profession’s marginalisation, with the government leading the way by practically demonstrating how it values architects.
Yet in the context of Scruton’s appointment, one could be led to wonder whether the position is intended to back up Scruton’s Building Better, Building Beautiful commission or to rein it in?
Perhaps the government’s true intentions will only be evident when we learn who the successful applicant is.
Also this week:
- AHMM has designed an extension for Central House, the building that was, until recently, home to London Met’s Cass school of architecture. The school moved out in 2017 in a controversial move that saw the school’s dean, Robert Mull, resign in protest. AHMM’s office and retail scheme (pictured above) retains and refurbishes the six-storey building while adding six further floors which, it says, will mirror the existing structure, inspired by Rachel Whiteread’s Monument which she created for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth in 2001.
- A magistrate’s court has fined a man £2,000 plus £3,659 in costs for illegally using the title ‘architect’. Nicholas Rothe traded as Cheshire Architects and Construction despite not being on the ARB register. But perhaps he considers the near-£6,000 cost to be a savvy marketing expense, comparing well with the £60,000 odd he might have spent training to be a qualified architect. At the time of writing his firm’s website is still live with the company name unchanged.
- The RIBA is calling for architects to help bring architecture teaching into schools as it starts to roll out a nationwide educational drive. The launch of the institute’s national schools programme follows a three-year pilot which has seen architects volunteer their time in workshops for children aged between four and 18. The programme, which will be free of charge to schools, is intended to help children explore the built environment and understand why good design is important.
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