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Weekend roundup: Gold hippos mark final indignity for Alex de Rijke

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Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: de Rijke speaks out over Hastings Pier • Schumacher claims executors threatened to eject him from ZHA • Government rejects Weston Williamson’s M25 for trains 

Unless you actually own the building in question, an architect has little control over what becomes of it once completed – even if it does win them the Stirling Prize. 

When Alex de Rijke’s practice dRMM picked up the UK’s most prestigious architectural award in 2017 for its revamp of Hastings Pier, he can have hardly expected that barely a year later it would be adorned with miniature gold hippos. 

Alas, weeks after the prize was awarded, the charity that owned the pier went into administration, and the pier was controversially sold to local hotelier Abid Gulzar – a man whose predilection for a certain yellowish precious metal has won him the nickname ‘Goldfinger’. 

When he purchased Eastbourne Pier back in 2015 he promptly upset sensitive locals by painting it partly gold, and had expressed a keenness to do the same with his latest acquisition. 

It has all proved a little too much for de Rijke who, after keeping his counsel for some time, has expressed dismay at how things have panned out. 

He said he was shocked that the UK legal system had allowed the assets of a publicly funded charity to be bought by a private company at a cut price, with Gulzar allowed to purchase a £14 million project for £60,000, according to land registry documents. 

‘I am also dismayed that the administrator rejected an alternative £750,000 offer with a five-year business plan from the community,’ he told the AJ, referring to the Friends of Hastings Pier bid to buy the structure. 

Backers of the community proposal have had their ire raised recently after Gulzar closed the pier to the public while it underwent repairs and improvements, made all the more urgent by a recent fire in the café. Given the propensity for Britain’s piers to go up in flames, this doesn’t seem an undue overreaction. 

But de Rijke laments the turn of fortune for the structure. His minimalist redesign, he says, was based on replacing the ‘outdated amusement arcade model’. Revenue was intended to be generated by ‘ambitious larger events including music festivals with high profile acts’, but these never had the chance to take place. 

As well as making the pier less likely to catch fire, Gulzar is planning to sweep away dRMM’s vision, adding five retail and catering units as well as traditional pier arcade machines. 

Later today (Saturday) a group of protesters are planning to gather by the pier to demonstrate against its abrupt closure, saying they worked tirelessly to bring it back to life and have invested money and time in its restoration. 

Gulzar is unimpressed by local anger, telling The Guardian that ‘I will make sure this pier will be one of the best, but I will not tolerate any nonsense where people come and use swear words.’ 

Swear words, however, could be the least of it. Earlier this week a woman was charged with causing damage to Gulzar’s gold Mercedes – which the pier owner claims is ‘the most photographed car in East Sussex’.

Fellow executors tried to kick me out of my practice, claims Schumacher

Patrik schumacher at waf

Patrik schumacher at waf

More details have emerged of Patrik Schumacher’s grievances against the three other executors of Zaha Hadid’s estate.

Schumacher, who is director of the late architect’s practice, is taking legal action to try and get shot of the other executors: developer Peter Palumbo, artist Brian Clarke and Zaha’s niece Rana Hadid.

Now a 20-page document lodged at the High Court gives greater clarity to Schumacher’s beef, alleging that the three tried to force him to quit the practice.

The hostility appears to date back to Schumacher’s controversial 2016 speech in which he proposed scrapping all social housing and privatising public space. The three other executors reacted by issuing a joint statement denouncing the comments and saying that Zaha Haid ‘would have been totally opposed to these views and would have disassociated herself from them’.

The executors are all board directors of Zaha Hadid Holdings, which is the sole shareholder of Zaha Hadid Architects.

Schumacher’s document claims that the three used his 2016 speech to justify a separation between Schumacher and the practice, either by ditching him as director or by insisting the practice ceased using ‘any trading name featuring the words Zaha Hadid’. 

He also claims that the three declared high dividends for the practice ‘thereby reducing [its] ability to continue as a going concern’.

Zaha Hadid Architects, meanwhile, has said it hopes ‘this matter can be settled quickly and amicably, to the satisfaction of all parties’.

It seemed to be more concerned by ‘threats’ to its London Aquatics Centre from the planned East Bank cultural quarter on Stratford waterfront.

The practice says the development will cause ‘significant harm’ to the building’s design integrity, including the demolition of an external lift.

The London Legacy Development Corporation argues that it is not modifying any part of the facility’s main building, and that the lift in question often breaks down and needs regular repair.

M25 for trains ‘too complex’ to build



Weston Williamson is seething after the Department for Transport rejected its proposal for an M25 for high-speed trains, linking HS2 with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (aka HS1) via Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

The architect, which has extensive experience in the transport sector, came up with the design, working with Expedition Engineering, after the government put out a call for ‘market-led’ rail ideas.

The two firms argue that the  £10 billion HS4Air  scheme would mean passengers travelling from the North would be able to reach France without having to get off at Euston and then travel to St Pancras for the next stage of their journey. Its proposal would bypass London altogether, as well as providing direct connections with the capital’s two main airports.

But the department seems to have dismissed the idea out of hand, calling it ‘too complex [with] a number of high-cost and high-risk delivery challenges’.

Weston Williamson associate partner Nick McGough has hit out at the rejection, calling it ‘symptomatic of the UK government’s inability to take a longer-term view’ and questioning why the government found it ‘so difficult to think big and plan properly’.

He also claimed the project could be delivered without using any public money, which does sound particularly attractive.

Of course, the last project the AJ reported on that wasn’t meant to require taxpayer funding – the Garden Bridge – ended up costing the taxpayer some £43 million without any actual built project at the end of the process.

Perhaps civil servant jitters are part of an undisclosed risk analysis process based on the prospect of the former London mayor becoming prime minister before the year is out.

Also this week

  • A team including Penoyre & Prasad and White Arkitekter has won the contest to design a new home for London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital. The AECOM-led team will create an integrated facility at St Pancras Hospital in Camden, including research and educational facilities. It beat four other teams that included Rogers Stirk Harbour and Hopkins.
  • An expert panel has called for 3 million social homes to be built in England over the next 20 years – with nearly 200,000 homes constructed every year. The commission – organised by housing charity Shelter – said that the £213 billion cost would be paid for by a reduction in housing benefit payments and increased tax receipts as a result of the construction work. 
  • Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency has shown a show a sharp rise in the proportion of graduates receiving first-class degrees in architecture and related subjects. The findings follow a warning by the Office for Students that universities must act against unexplained grade inflation. Two of the universities mentioned by the office – Greenwich and Huddersfield – attributed their higher grades to better teaching, while the RCA’s Harriet Harriss said students were working harder because of the higher costs of attaining a degree.

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

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