Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Brutalist car park set for demolition • Adjaye wants Holocaust Memorial to ‘disrupt’ • Patrik Schumacher’s earnings • The rise of modular housing
‘They paved paradise, put up a parking lot …. And then knocked it down’ was one Twitter reaction that reflected a certain irony in people becoming misty-eyed over the demolition of a car park – in this case the Welbeck Street multistorey in London’s Marylebone.
The 1970 diamond-façaded structure has an appointment with the wrecking ballafter Westminster Council approved a planning application to replace it with a 10-storey luxury hotel designed by EPR. And looking at the hotel visualisations, it doesn’t look as if it’s been geared to attracting architectural tourists.
Architect Simon Henley, a self-confessed car park obsessive, was one of many people quite devastated to learn of its fate. Writing in the AJ, he described it as ‘a remarkable concrete structure and a unique sculptural work of geometric composition’.
EPR’s design replaces an earlier proposal by Eric Parry Architects, which won planning permission in 2017, sparking a ‘Diamonds are Forever’ campaign by the Twentieth Century Society. At the time, London architectural practice JAA developed an alternative hotel design which retained the façade.
According to Look Up London, Eric Parry itself looked at preserving the façade, but was unable to find a ‘suitable solution’ – the sticking point being the height of car park levels compared with those required for a hotel.
Henley, who wrote a book on car parks in 2007, compared the lack of will to preserve such structures with the reverence paid to those arising from a previous era of transport construction: the steam age.
‘The then modern structures that William Morris decried … are today’s historic monuments’ he wrote. ‘Beeching denied us a timetable but he didn’t deny us our heritage.’
And he wonders whether the V&A might consider saving a section of ‘this extraordinary façade’ as it did with part of Robin Hood Gardens.
Poll: What should happen to Welbeck Street car park?
• List it
• Demolish it
• Give it a new use but retain façade
Last week’s poll asked for your verdict on ARB’s two-year suspension of Stuart Duffy for signing off buildings that were clearly unfinished. 48 per cent thought the sanction was too lenient; 43 per cent felt it was about right; while 9 per cent considered it too harsh.
David Adjaye appears to have dropped any pretence about his Holocaust Memorialfitting unobtrusively into its Victoria Tower Gardens setting. Speaking to The Times he admitted: ‘Disrupting the pleasure of being in a park is key to the thinking.’
The memorial, designed by Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad Architects, has attracted criticism from local residents over its impact on the small park, which is near the Houses of Parliament. Westminster Council is currently considering its planning application.
The objectors have previously protested under the slogan ‘Right idea, wrong place’, lest anyone should fear they are against memorialising the Holocaust. They say they fear that its construction will involve the removal of mature plane trees and destroy Westminster’s ‘green lung’.
There is a strong argument, though, that some kind of polite, discreet construction, tucked out of the way, would be wholly inappropriate for marking an event that involved the systematic murder of six million Jewish people less than 80 years ago.
The revelation that, according to a recent survey, one in twenty of the UK population do not believe the Holocaust took place, combined with a recent increase in racist hate crimes, suggests that a conspicuous and disrupting memorial is exactly what is required.
How much did Patrik Schumacher earn last year? No one’s saying. But the latest company results from Zaha Hadid Limited (which trades as Zaha Hadid Architects) state that its highest paid director took home £5.3 million in the year ending 30 April 2018.
And since Schumacher is practice principal, it seems unlikely he would be letting anyone else pocket that kind of sum.
The money comprises ‘annual emoluments’ of £819,252 as well as an ‘accrued remuneration’ over several years of £4,485,124, which had not been previously drawn.
Why the sudden urge to ensure this money is safely squirrelled away? Again, no one’s saying. But Schumacher, who is one of four executors of Zaha Hadid’s £70 million estate, is currently involved in a High Court bid to remove the other three, alleging that they have been taking an increasing interest in the running of the practice and that they tried to force him to quit.
In accordance with the adage that ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law’, the highest-paid director may feel the money is a whole lot safer in their own bank account.
The rise of modular housing continues
Those arguing that factory-made housing will be vital in tackling the housing crisis should be glad to see its progress taking two significant steps this week.
Developer Urban Splash looks set to be appointed to build what would be the UK’s largest modular housing scheme this century – in the Cambridgeshire new town of Northstowe.
The developer teamed up with architect Proctor & Matthews to win a Homes England competition to build around 440 homes and is waiting for its appointment to be officially signed off.
Northstowe was originally one of the eco-towns proposed under New Labour in 2007, though its progress stalled and work only started in 2015 with the first buildings being occupied in 2017. The town is set to contain 10,000 homes once complete with the bulk so far being built by volume housebuilders.
While not all the Urban Splash housing is expected to be factory built, Homes England has specified that at least eight homes be completed each month – not including ‘affordable’ units – and prefabrication would be the most likely means by which to achieve this highly ambitious target.
The competition win comes hot on the heels of a deal last month for Urban Splash to build 347 modular homes on the massive Wirral Waters scheme in Merseyside.
Meanwhile, housing association L&Q has said it will use off-site manufacturing for all its new-build homes from 2025.
It made the decision after taking advice from a panel that includes Hawkins\Brown, HTA Design and Pollard Thomas Edwards, and is developing design proposals.
L&Q has committed to delivering 100,000 new homes with like-minded partners over the next decade.
Also this week
- A record number of women have applied to study architecture and related subjects at university in 2019. Data from admissions body UCAS showed 18,090 women had met last month’s deadline for applications to full-time architecture, building and planning undergraduate degrees starting in September 2019. This was up 5 per cent from last year and 38 per cent higher than in 2013.
- Farshid Moussavi Architecture has won a competition to design a religious, social and cultural centre in Houston, Texas. The London-based architect beat David Chipperfield Architects, Studio Gang and OMA to win the job. The centre is for the city’s Ismaili Muslim community, the branch of Islam led by the Aga Khan.
- Conservation specialist Purcell is the latest architect to announce plans to become employee-owned. The practice, which has a network of 11 studios across the UK, also revealed a pre-tax profit of £2.7 million for the 12 months to 30 April 2018 – up from £2 million in the previous year.
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