Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Leaked emails lift lid on Glasgow School of Art row • Cost of not building Rotherhithe crossing • Karakusevic Carson housing to be evacuated • Mayor lays into Hawkins\Brown plan for Alton Estate
When Tom Inns resigned as director of the Glasgow School of Art last November, little explanation was provided by either him or the school, though it was noticeable that he didn’t appear to have another job to go to. The fire at the Mackintosh building five months earlier did, however, loom heavily in the background.
Now an astonishing insight has been given on his departure, with the leaking of an email exchange between Inns and chair of the school’s board Muriel Gray. This reveals that Inns was put on sick leave weeks before his departure ‘despite being completely well’ as he put it.
In an email sent to colleagues in October 2018, Inns wrote: ‘I met Muriel Gray yesterday and she told me that, based on her judgement, I was to be signed off on sick leave due to stress … an interesting move when … I am completely well.’ While he admitted that the weeks following the fire had been ‘stressful’, he asserted that he remained ‘totally capable of fulfilling the roles of GSA director’.
This followed an email to Inns from Gray, who is not understood to have any medical qualifications herself, telling him: ‘You are continuing to work despite being explicitly instructed to stop working until OH [occupational health] input regarding your fitness to work can be obtained. This is unacceptable.’
She then warned him that if he continued to keep working, his IT access would be suspended. Inns’ email to colleagues was sent from his personal account.
Inns announced his resignation a few weeks later, saying it was ‘time for a new director to work with the board to deliver the future vision for GSA’. Gray, meanwhile, lavished him with praise, saying ‘we are all truly grateful for his enormous commitment and hard work’. How touching that must have been for him.
Academia can be notorious for its propensity for arcane internal politics and infighting, which needn’t affect anyone else but becomes more of a concern when the institution in question has a propensity for allowing its own building to burn down.
Scotland’s Sunday Post, which published the leaked emails last weekend, had previously reported that 70 members of staff had left the Glasgow School of Art in the 12 months after the fire, and that six staff members had signed confidentiality agreements, with Inns believed to be one of these.
Critics have suggested concern that such agreements will discourage those signing them from coming forward as investigations continue into the circumstances surrounding last year’s fire.
Gray, meanwhile, is currently on a temporary leave of absence herself. Her husband was diagnosed with a severe type of skin cancer in December 2017 and he recently completed a charity walk to the top of Ben Nevis.
Building bridges is an expensive business but, as has become apparent in recent years, not building them can cost a few bob too. A Freedom of Information request by AJ sister title New Civil Engineer revealed that Transport for London paid nearly £10 million in fees to architects, engineers and consultants to develop its Rotherhithe crossing plans.
The bridge designed by Knight Architects was shelved in June after costs nearly doubled to £600 million. The practice received £5.5 million for its work. An improved ferry crossing between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf now seems the likely – and considerably cheaper – alternative.
But while £10 million is not to be sneezed at, it amounts to only 1.7 per cent of the projected build cost – an impressively small percentage compared with a couple of other notable abandoned bridge projects.
Foster + Partners’ Upper Orwell Crossings project in Ipswich had cost £8.1 million when the plug was pulled as anticipated costs rose to £139 million – or 5.8 per cent of the projected cost. Which of course pales in comparison with the Garden Bridge where the now prime minister oversaw the shelling out of £53 million – a staggering 27 per cent of its £200 million price tag.
Residents are to be evacuated from a housing block in Hackney, designed by Karakusevic Carson Architects, after investigations found it contained ‘potentially combustible insulation’.
Hackney Council said this was among several ‘serious construction defects’ which also included missing fire barriers, as well as flawed brickwork, balconies and windows. Forty-one families living in Bridport House will now have to leave their homes while remedial work is carried out.
The block is part of the wider regeneration of Hoxton’s Colville Estate, which has suffered a number of problems since it opened in 2011, including falling roof tiles, crumbling bricks and flooding. Earlier this year, the Hackney Gazette reported how the metal underside of a balcony fell from the second floor of the apartment building.
Karakusevic Carson took the Bridport House scheme to detailed planning, but construction was carried out under a design and build contract. The practice said it had prepared construction drawings that were compliant with Building Regulations and were approved by building control, but stressed that it had not had any site monitoring presence.
The Mayor of London has added his voice to the row over Hawkins\Brown’s proposals for the Alton Estate in south-west London.
As reported in July, the practice’s scheme involves demolishing a substantial part of the 1950s housing estate, which the Twentieth Society has lauded as one of the ‘jewels in the crown’ of the London County Council’s post-war housing programme.
Now Sadiq Khan has said he has serious concerns over the proposals, particularly concerning the affordable housing component. Of the 800 new homes created under the plan, only 53 are classed as affordable – with a further 45 classed as shared equity.
The scheme also places the social housing in two ‘segregated single-tenure blocks on the periphery of the site’, which GLA planners described as ‘unacceptable’. Their report added that the proposed scheme did not comply with the London Plan Policy as it did not deliver like-for-like replacement of social rented units.
The estate features on the Twentieth Century’s Top 10 Buildings at Risk List, published in July.
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