Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Centre for Music • Archigram archive goes to Hong Kong • Foster Ipswich bridge set to be ditched • Gender pay gap season kicks off early
Diller Scofidio + Renfro has revealed its rather striking design for the City of London’s new concert hall, along with the exciting boast that the building could solve some of the Barbican’s connectivity flaws.
When the arts centre, designed by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, opened in the early 1980s, it quickly became notorious for its labyrinthine qualities.
Navigation across the estate’s walkways was a challenge for most visitors, who would be reliant on slavishly following painted lines to the various venues while having no real idea of quite where they were.
And at its arse end sat the Museum of London, dropped into the middle of a busy roundabout and accessible by means of raised walkways.
Like much of the Barbican, it is somewhere you are unlikely to come across accidentally, or choose to hang out in – as you might at its cross-river counterpart the South Bank. There is, after all, a reason why the museum has decided to move to a new location at Smithfield.
But undaunted, Diller Scofidio + Renfro is embracing the site’s challenge and expressing a certain kinship with the Barbican’s high walkways – the practice having made its name with the similarly raised High Line scheme in New York.
The Centre for Music aims to ‘turn the Barbican’s inwardly focused campus inside out’. Crucially, the building will reclaim the southern section of the roundabout with a ground-level foyer and pedestrian plaza.
The designs have met with a generally positive response, though some say it bears a close resemblance to Herzog & de Meuron’s Tate Modern extension. Garnering less favourable feedback are the four storeys of offices incorporated to the centre, which will help finance the £288 million scheme.
Archigram’s archive is going to Hong Kong – purchased for £1.8 million by the M+ museum in the West Kowloon cultural district.
Culture secretary Jeremy Wright has permitted the sale despite a recommendation to the contrary by the reviewing committee on the export of works of cultural interest.
The archive of work by the 1960s radical architecture group is pretty vast, containing 3,000-4,000 drawings, between 11,000 and 14,000 photographs, 17 models and 430 video and audio tapes. The sheer range of estimates as to the number of documents suggests that no one has quite yet managed to get a grip on its contents.
While the committee argued the archive should remain in the country because of its ‘outstanding significance in relation to architectural history’, Archigram’s surviving members apparently could not find a suitable UK museum and Wright ruled that it was more important that the archive remained intact.
Indeed, the archive had been valued at £2.7 million, but the members favoured accepting a lower price from an institution that would make its contents available to the public. ‘There were some places that would have put it into a basement only for scholars to see,’ Peter Cook told the AJ.
Group member Dennis Crompton, who has looked after the archive until now, said it had mostly been stored in his house ‘under various beds and cupboards’.
Of the fee they have received for the archive, Cook remarked: ‘We’re not very good at negotiating, but I got enough to pay off my mortgage.’ Which is lovely, if a bit surprising that the 82-year-old architect still has a mortgage.
M+ is a modern art and design museum, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and set to open later this year. It is believed to be bidding for other architects’ archives, including that of Arata Isozaki.
Suffolk County Council looks set to scrap the main bridge in its Orwell Crossings project next week. Foster + Partners won the three-bridge project in March 2017 following a competition process that was the subject of an AJ investigation which exposed a number of disquieting aspects to its conduct.
Arguably the most dubious was that Fosters had been allowed to lower its fee bid after the designs had been assessed. Since bids were assessed 60 per cent on design quality and 40 per cent on cost, the practice’s subsequent decision to slash its price from £1.4 million down to £845,000 was probably vital to it winning the bid.
But it is a whole different scale of costs that has likely proven the scheme’s comeuppance. The total project cost had soared from an original estimate of £96.6 million to as much as £140 million. And with the Department for Transport contributing only £77.5 million, the council does not believe it has the necessary funds to make up the shortfall.
The discrepancy makes the wrangling over architect’s fees seem like a drop in the ocean, but perhaps there were earlier warnings about the soundness of the project.
Within weeks of the competition being advertised, bridge designer Cezary Bednarski had described it as ‘totally illogical’. He was perplexed that architects would submit their designs without advice from the project’s engineer, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, which had already been appointed by the council.
Once again it suggests that those running such competitions should put less emphasis on how much the architect wants to charge and pay more attention to the project’s total cost.
While a council report recommends the main bridge is ditched, two much smaller bridges connecting Wet Dock Island to the east and west banks of the River Orwell could still be built but would rely on new funding.
Apparently finding itself with some unexpected time on its hands, Fosters + Partners has published its gender pay gap data for 2018 more than two months ahead of the deadline.
Last spring saw a flurry of larger architectural firms – those with more than 250 employees – submit their gender pay gap data in the weeks before the government’s 4 April cut-off date.
Foster’s alacrity this year is probably a smart idea since it has a moderately good news story to promote, its median gender pay gap having edged back from 10.5 per cent to 9.8 per cent.
The practice attributes the gap to it having more men, with longer service, in senior higher-paid roles. It stresses that in 2018 it made a further four women senior partners, and was encouraging more women into senior roles through its leadership development and mentoring programme.
And while the improvement is undoubtedly modest, if it manages to make a similar rate of progress every year, the gap will be gone within 13 years.
It’s also worth noting that Fosters has a disadvantage compared with some of the other architects legally obliged to publish their gender pay gap data. Despite its name, it is a private limited company rather than a partnership with all staff counting as employees.
Other practices – notably Hawkins\Brown, Sheppard Robson, Allies and Morrison and TP Bennett – are limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and therefore do not include their partners’ earnings in their figures as they count as a share of profits rather than pay.
Which means that if the partners are male-dominated this is not reflected in pay gap figures.
Also this week
- Beauty czar Roger Scruton has admitted that the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission may be a government decoy to distract from more pressing housing issues. Speaking at a debate at Central Saint Martins in King’s Cross he said: ‘I’m here in order to make it look like something is being done.’
- Jamie Fobert Architects and Purcell have released the first images of their £35.5 million National Portrait Gallery makeover – the largest development at the London gallery since it opened in 1896. The scheme will increase gallery space by about 20 per cent. It also includes the creation of a ‘more welcome and generous’ entrance and forecourt on the gallery’s north façade.
- Allford Hall Monaghan Morris has submitted plans to build a 37-storey office-led tower near London Bridge station. As well as more than 45,000m² of office space, the scheme would include 765m² of retail facilities, 615m² of leisure room, a hub space and an elevated public garden. The tower will be less than half the height of the neighbouring 95-storey Shard.
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