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Weekend roundup: Heatherwick Studio – nothing to see here

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Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Heatherwick Studio’s profits plummet • Tompkins tops theatre power list • Museum of Military intelligence scraps controversial competition • Report’s concrete warning

There is absolutely no need to panic at Heatherwick Studio, whose latest accounts show its pretax profits for the year to March 2018 plummeted to £1.7 million, down from £9.5 the previous year – a fall of 82 per cent. Profits after tax are, paradoxically, slightly better at £2.7 million as the practice received a rebate of nearly £1 million.

The collapse in profits was accompanied by a 30 per cent fall in turnover – down from £27.5 million to £19.1 million.

The practice, however, is adamant that both figures are ‘as anticipated’ and could be attributed to the phasing of projects, with existing ones entering their latter stages and new ones still at concept stages. However, it is the second successive year in which profits have fallen

And while the company reduced its headcount by around 10 per cent during the year in question, it says it has since increased its staff and has secured new projects that will span several years, securing future income. It also says profits were affected by its increased investment in staff training.

One person who certainly won’t be panicking is practice director Thomas Heatherwick. As owner of at least 75 per cent of the practice’s shares, he is in line to receive a £1.9 million dividend payment, adding to one of £2.6 million the previous year. Which will be of little comfort to the aggrieved donors who gave money to the Garden Bridge Trust and are now considering taking legal action to see if they can get it back. Heatherwick Studio earned around £2.7 million in fees for the unbuilt project.

Contacted by the AJ to elaborate on its finances, the practice declined to comment any further than expressing astonishment that we had nothing more interesting to write about. 

Stage-struck Tompkins tops theatrical power list

Steve tompkins

Steve tompkins

Theatre-industry newspaper The Stage has produced its annual list of the 100 most influential people working in the performing arts. Last year, the chart was topped by Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone, while impresarios such as Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber regularly frequent the higher positions, with various actors, writers and composers also featuring.

So it’s quite a surprise to see architect Steve Tompkins taking the No 1 position. 

His practice, Haworth Tompkins, has been responsible for a number of high-profile theatre projects, most notably Liverpool’s Everyman, which won the 2014 Stirling Prize. Last year the practice completed its revamp of Battersea Arts Centre as well as work on Bristol Old Vic.

Nevertheless, it is a delightfully refreshing start to the new year to see that, in one area at least, the value of this so-often marginalised profession has been recognised.

Tellingly The Stage points out that Tompkins ‘is not a showy architect’, and describes the Bristol project as ‘as much about changing the ethos of the company as the physical transformation of the building’. It adds: ‘Tompkins’ defining principle is a desire to democratise and open up theatre spaces.

The publication also speculated that his background in social housing had been a factor in his theatre work, saying Tompkins was ‘interested in how physical changes to a building can alter the way that people experience a communal space’.

Tompkins himself said he was ‘thrilled and slightly taken aback’ by his top billing.

Why did Museum of Military Intelligence fail to win funding? It’s hush-hush

Ww2radio studio at milton bryanimagebyjayembee1969

Ww2radio studio at milton bryanimagebyjayembee1969

Last November we reported on a controversial competition to find a team to design a new home for the Museum of Military Intelligence. Controversial because the firm running the procurement process, Cragg Management Services (CMS), was also bidding for the job.

The museum denied that this represented any kind of stitch-up for the job, stressing that CMS would not be involved in evaluating the tender submissions. 

And indeed, CMS will not be winning the job since the entire £4.7 million scheme has now been scrapped after the Heritage Lottery Fund decided not to back it.

One of those attacking the procurement set-up, Kay Hughes of competitions consultancy Khaa, had called for the HLF to investigate the process.

But if the alleged conflict of interest was a factor in the project’s failure, the HLF wasn’t saying so. It merely produced a bland statement saying: We have a high level of competition for grants and we are unable to support all the applications we receive.’

Concrete evidence

Shutterstock concrete wv

Shutterstock concrete wv

Is Modernism destroying the environment? Cement – the key ingredient in stalwart building material concrete – is, alas, responsible for 8 per cent of all global CO2 emissions.

This is the conclusion of research by the Chatham House think tank, which says it underlines the need for drastic changes in the production and use of concrete.

While the Paris climate change agreement requires the cement sector’s annual emissions to fall by 16 per cent by 2030, global demand means the sector is in fact rapidly expanding.

And architect Anthony Thistleton is blaming Modernism. ‘Concrete is beautiful and versatile but, unfortunately, it ticks all the boxes in terms of environmental degradation,’ he said. ’Our profession has deified the Modernists and still thinks primarily about how a building looks.’

Thistleton’s practice, Waugh Thistleton, has been a champion of using cross-laminated timber on multistorey buildings. But this environmentally friendlier alternative may be snuffed out before it has taken off. The government’s combustible cladding ban, introduced last month, includes CLT among the materials that cannot be used for external walls in new buildings over 18m tall and containing housing. 

Some have argued that concrete’s high thermal mass means its use in buildings reduces the energy needed to heat and cool them. However, this only offsets the carbon used in construction if the building lasts many decades. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) we only have 12 years to substantially reduce emissions.

Those who feel able to navigate their way through these conundrums may wish to submit their work to this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The architecture room is being curated by Spencer de Grey, head of design at Foster + Partners, who says he wants projects with a strong sustainable agenda. 

Also this week

  • dRMM’s Stirling Prize-winning Hastings Pier has unexpectedly closed for more than two months for ‘essential repairs and improvements’. The pier was sold to Abid Gulzar last year after the charity that owned it went into administration. Gulzar says he is carrying out essential repairs and improvements and has sought planning permission to add five retail and catering units in order to bring in revenue for the pier.
  • Architect Owen Luder had demanded that commemorative plaques be removed from his award-winning office block in Catford, south-east London, in protest at the building’s ‘disgraceful’ condition. Eros House was designed in the 1960s and received awards from the RIBA and the Civic Trust. It was later converted into 63 flats, whose residents recently demonstrated over problems with damp and heating at the block. ‘The current building is not the one I designed and received those awards,’ Luder said.
  • Emerging practice Interrobang has won a competition to design a £1.8 million pop-up market and cultural hub in Ilford, east London. The firm was chosen ahead of Asif Khan; Jestico + Whiles with Goldfinger Factory; and Greig & Stephenson after the four teams took part in a charette process, backed by the London mayor, aiming at giving smaller practices a chance to bid for projects. 

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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