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Weekend roundup: Home cinema’s disaster movie

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Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Architect loses home-cinema court case • RIBA drops plans for International Women’s Day cookery class • AA reprieves axed publication

Architect Daniel Marcal must pay clients £500,000 in damages as well as costs after a judge ruled that he was at fault for a ‘wonky’ home-cinema project that the clients say is so far removed from what they wanted they have no choice but to demolish it and start again. 

Comparing the images of Marcal’s original visualisation and the project as built resembles an AJ exposé of what happens when a client sacks their big-name designer and hires an ‘executive architect’ to impose a rigorous dose of value-engineering. 

A sleek modern look was replaced by a considerably clunkier confection, described in the court as ‘wonky industrial’, not a style that’s likely to catch on. 

Specific gripes by the clients, banker Philip Freeborn and his wife Christina Goldie, included the use of ‘visible spider bolts’ to join the glass panels and that the structure was supported on six legs and not four. 

Cinema before after

Cinema before after

Asked to provide evidence that the clients had approved the scheme’s unusual evolution, Marcal – where he might have presented written briefs and signed-off alterations – produced a Pinterest board.

One doesn’t want to come across as some Luddite fuddy-duddy, but there are clear disadvantages on relying on this medium over more conventional means of agreement, such as a written contract, a written brief or minutes of meetings – none of which existed.

Marcal’s written evidence consisted of a bundle of ‘daybooks, notebooks and sketch pads’ which appeared to have been used randomly according to which one he happened to pick up on a particular day. 

Clients adding extra elements or making late changes are a common feature of domestic projects; and can be a bugbear for the architect, particularly if the client baulks at the attendant cost increases. 

As witness for the defendant Ian Salisbury put it, a design brief is often ‘a journey of exploration with the architect’. But in this instance, the judge concluded that the ‘journey of exploration was … taken by the defendant without inviting the claimants to accompany him’. 

Marcal must pay costs as well as the half million in damages – a substantial sum for an architect who was charging £35 an hour and was paid a total of £35,000 for his work. It’s a harsh lesson in the importance of good communication with a client and written authorisation for all changes. 

Poll: What is the main lesson architects can learn from the court’s judgement in this case?
• Always have a written brief 
• Don’t use Pinterest as a design tool 
• Don’t work for bankers 
• Don’t design home cinemas 
Vote here 

Last week’s poll asked how the RIBA should respond to the revelation that many practices are forcing architects to opt out of the right to work no more than 48 hours a week. Only 3 per cent thought it shouldn’t get involved, while 32 per cent thought it should take legal action and 56 per cent favoured revoking chartered status for the offending practices. 

Nine per cent said the institute should ‘strongly urge them not to’ which, let’s face it, is probably the most likely outcome.

Women – know your place

Shutterstock woman in kitchen wv

Shutterstock woman in kitchen wv

Yesterday (Friday) was International Women’s Day. Around the world, people attended rallies, talks and discussions that celebrated women’s achievements and campaigned for greater equality. 

How did the RIBA propose marking the day that looks to empower women and break down the glass ceiling that stymies career progression? With a cookery class

The event, said the institute, would give guests a chance to network at a kitchen showroom in Mayfair before being given a presentation on how to prepare ‘quick and healthy meals for a busy working family’. 

The planned event prompted an open letter to RIBA president Ben Derbyshire, signed by more than 50 architects and academics. It expressed ‘disappointment’ at the institute’s ‘endorsement of kitchens, family wellbeing and healthy eating as a general female prerogative, and one that is of particular relevance to women’s professional advancement in architecture’. 

The letter was sent last Friday and by Monday morning the event had been ditched. Replaced by a course in dusting architectural models, tweeted one wag. 

How did such an event ever get approved? One imagines a coterie of elderly men trying to figure out how to best celebrate the day and thinking: yes, this would definitely be of interest to our fairer-sex members. 

But the RIBA is far from exclusively male. Three of its last five presidents have been women; two-fifths of RIBA Council are female; and its own gender pay gap last year (4.1 per cent) was one of the smaller ones in the architectural world. 

Yet it’s hard to imagine an event less appropriate for marking women’s equality. Though judging by the experiences of some in the AJ office, a course for men on how to clean their workplaces would be very useful.

AA turns it around

Evafranchigilabert

Evafranchigilabert

Following last week’s news that London Met University was set to reverse its decision to move the Cass school of architecture away from its East End home, comes news of another architecture school backtrack. 

Architectural Association director Eva Franch iGilabert has announced that the school’s axed publication AA Files has been resurrected and a new issue will be published later this year. 

The title was axed at the end of 2017 amid a round of redundancies, with the publications department slashed from eight permanent posts to just two. 

And – as was the case with the Cass proposal – the move was met with protest from the architecture world. In this case, those calling for a u-turn included Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas, Toyo Ito and Kengo Kuma. A letter from them and dozens of other architects and academics warned that the job cuts could prove fatal to the institution. 

Franch was appointed director last year, succeeding interim director Samantha Hardingham, who clearly had the job of hatchet woman so that a permanent successor would only have to deal with nice things. 

Among other positives Franch was able to report was that the AA’s finances were back on track after it had previously made a loss of £800,000; and that it hopes to begin awarding its own degrees later this year. 

Currently its degrees are conferred by the Open University, but it has lodged an application for degree-awarding powers with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education which will consider its case in May. 

Also this week 

  • Japanese architect, city planner and theorist Arata Isozaki has won the 2019 Pritzker Prize for his ‘forward-thinking and transnational’ architecture. The 87-year old is the eighth winner from Japan and will receive $100,00 (£72,000) for winning. Early reconstruction projects in his home town of Ōita have been credited with pioneering a Japanese Brutalist aesthetic. 
  • Peter Barber Architects has won planning approval for a scheme to create a public mews in Finchley, north London. The practice will create 97 homes – 50 per cent of which will be ‘affordable’ – on a curved site running parallel with the North Circular Road. The 0.58ha plot is owned by Transport for London and has been brought forward for development as part of the Mayor of London’s Small Sites, Small Builders programme. 
  • Tadao Ando’s only UK building has been reprieved. Planning approval had been given to demolish the Japanese architect’s Piccadilly Gardens pavilion in Manchester and replace it with a leisure scheme by Urban Edge Architecture. But the developer has concluded the scheme is no longer financially viable. Manchester City Council now plans to spend £2 million on improving the gardens and turning some of Ando’s building into a ‘living wall’ covered in greenery.

This column has been altered. It originally stated that John Perry was the witness for the defendant in the home cinema court case, whereas he was, in fact, a witness for the claimant.

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

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Must suggest to my MP that a Pinterest board could help in sorting out Brexit.

    And the portrait of the head of the AA makes me wonder if any other director of an architecture school wears a knitting needle through the top of their head - is it a bit like a control rod in a nuclear reactor?

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  • George Gaduzo

    Don’t design cinemas??! I disagree!
    Make sure you have a written brief, absolutely! Model your proposal so they can visualise your design.

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