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Weekend roundup: People in glass houses shouldn’t frolic about in dressing gowns

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Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Neo Bankside vs Tate Modern verdict • Final cost of Garden Bridge • Gehry’s Wimbledon concert hall • Council rejects biscuit factory redevelopment 

A landmark High Court judgement has ruled that if you move into a flat with floor-to-ceiling windows opposite a multistorey public art gallery, you can’t get all huffy when visitors to the gallery look at you.

Residents of the Stirling-shortlisted Neo Bankside flats, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour, were hoping the courts would put a stop to the voyeuristic tendencies of visitors to Tate Modern’s Switch House extension, designed by Herzog & de Meuron. 

Art lovers had been taking a break from the exhibits by wandering on to the gallery’s viewing platform to enjoy an installation of a less artful nature, by peering into the flats – greatly assisted by the aforementioned generous glazing, though also, the residents claim, by the use of binoculars. 

Much of Tate’s argument in its defence was that Neo Bankside’s developer never raised any objection to the viewing platform being built, and that residents would have been aware of the nature of the neighbouring building, which was under construction when they bought their flats. 

It’s possible the estate agents selling the flats didn’t highlight this aspect as a selling point; though one suspects they would have made a deal of the homes’ proximity to the UK’s top modern art gallery. 

Should it really have been necessary to add to such warnings as ‘share values can go up and down’, and ‘this cup of coffee contains a hot liquid’, the caution ‘glass can be looked in through as well as out of’? 

Indeed, not all residents were on-message regarding the complaints, with one telling The Guardian: ‘If you buy a flat with so much glass and think you’re buying privacy, you’re stupid.’ 

Nicholas Serota, Tate’s director when the legal action began, suggested upset residents to install blinds or net curtains – advice many of them appear to have taken. 

The litigating home-owners hoped to force Tate Modern to shut off part of the viewing platform. But making his ruling, Justice Mann (whose name makes him sound like some kind of legal superhero) said the tenants had ‘created their own sensitivity’ by purchasing apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows. 

Weekend poll: Do you agree with the High Court’s ruling that Tate Modern’s viewing platform stays open? 
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Vote here

Last week’s poll asked, ‘What should happen to the diamond-façaded Welbeck Street car park, now facing demolition?’ 

This proved a particularly engaging topic, attracting the most votes of any Weekend Newsletter poll so far. Only 11 per cent agreed with Westminster Council’s decision to allow the structure to be demolished; 32 per cent thought it should be listed; while 57 per cent wanted to find a new use for the building while keeping the façade. 

Chipping in on a lively Twitter debate was car park aficionado Simon Henley, who despaired of the talk of façadism, arguing that the façade was integral to its structure – ‘remove the façade and building falls down; replace the floors and façade falls down,’ he tweeted.

Love can build a bridge – but £53m can’t

Cash down borehole

Cash down borehole

Finally we know exactly how much money was squandered on not building the Garden Bridge: £53 million – of which £43 million is public money. 

Along with this final figure came a long-awaited breakdown of exactly where the money went. The figures show architect Heatherwick Studios took £2.75 million; garden designer Dan Pearson received £303,000, while Arup pocketed a cool £12.7 million. 

But it’s perhaps one of the smaller sums that gives an insight into the trust’s attitude when it came to spending money. It paid an astonishing £161,000 for a website that could surely have been produced for a fraction of that amount. 

With London mayor Boris Johnson seemingly willing to provide ever-increasing funds, the trust could happily dole out the cheques to all and sundry. Perhaps this gives a clue as to how the bridge’s price soared from an initial estimate of £60 million to more than £200 million. 

The largest chunk of the cash – £21.4 million – went to contractor Bouygues. Yet that deal was signed off without having first secured all the land for the project nor with funding secured to operate the bridge for the first five years – despite these being clear conditions of TfL’s funding. In other words, vast sums of money were spent when there was still no guarantee the bridge could be completed. 

When pressed on this issue at last year’s London Assembly hearing, Johnson said he couldn’t remember the circumstances surrounding these decisions. The former mayor instead cast blame on his successor as well as the AJ’s coverage, all but screaming ‘fake news’. 

Lest it be forgotten, the Garden Bridge was originally proclaimed as a project that would be entirely privately funded. I wonder if readers are aware of any other incidents of Johnson making false promises about major initiatives that failed to live up to his claims. 

Meanwhile in Exeter, the city council working with LDA Design have bravely produced a proposal for the city that features its very own garden bridge, to promote active travel across the River Exe. 

Did the Simpsons inspire Wimbledon’s Gehry concert hall?

Gehry wimbledon design

Gehry wimbledon design

The south-west London suburb of Wimbledon is already renowned for Wombles, a lawn tennis club and a resurrected football team. To these attractions could it soon be adding a Frank Gehry-designed concert hall? 

Anthony Wilkinson, who is director of the International Wimbledon Music Festival, wants to build the £100 million venue, and asked Gehry to provide concept designs for a 1,250-seat hall to be built on the site of a supermarket car park. 

He says he contacted Gehry after visiting the architect’s building for the New World Symphony in Miami. 

But fans of The Simpsons may be wondering if a certain episode of the long-running cartoon series had subconsciously lodged in his mind. The episode, from 2005, features Marge Simpson writing to Gehry (voiced by the architect himself) asking him to design a concert hall for the town of Springfield in an effort to class it up a bit – possibly not such an issue for Wimbledon. Gehry screws up the letter, then announces that this scrunched up paper is the design. 


Things don’t turn out so well for the concert hall once built as it falls into disuse and is then retrofitted to become a prison.  

Gehry subsequently said he regretted appearing on the show, feeling it had haunted him and led to people belittling the complex design process that results in his buildings.  

Just how the Wimbledon concert hall will be funded is unclear. Wilkinson says the scheme has so far been pledged £1 million and they are looking to find the other £99 million ‘from philanthropic sources’.  

Just watch out for any ambitious local politicians offering to underwrite the project.

Planning decision takes the biscuit

Bermondsey proposal

Bermondsey proposal

Southwark Council has rejected KPF’s £500 million scheme to redevelop the site of a former biscuit factory in Bermondsey amid a dispute over the amount of affordable housing.  

The scheme would have created 1,342 build-to-rent homes, with 27.5 per cent of the units to be let at below market rents. Southwark’s target is for 35 per cent of homes to be affordable and its independent viability consultant rejected developer Grosvenor’s claim that this would not be financially feasible.  

But now the council risks the prospect that no housing at all will be built on the site in what looks like a game of chicken between council and developer. 

Southwark may feel it previously had its fingers burnt with the redevelopment of Heygate Estate. The developer behind the Elephant Park scheme that replaced it was accused of manipulating viability figures to justify cutting the amount of social housing. 

Also this week 

  • Japanese architect Junya Ishigami will design this year’s Serpentine Pavilion. He is planning a heavy slate-like roof which will appear to elevate over the surrounding Kensington Gardens setting. The Serpentine Gallery’s pavilion programme, now in its 19th year, gives architects the opportunity to build their first UK structure. 
  • The government has appointed former PRP chairman Andy von Bradsky as its head of architecture. Launching the £61,000-per-year post last year, the government said it was responding to the perception that quality of design of new housing developments was ‘a barrier to achieving planning permissions’. 
  • Architect CF Møller is rethinking its use of cross-laminated timber for its scheme to replace Robin Hood Gardens after the government banned combustible cladding materials for tall buildings. Housing association Swan, which is behind the housing estate’s redevelopment, said it believed CLT performed really well under fire load and had been caught up in a ban intended to target other materials.

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 (1)

  • It seems that Gehry has made an altogether more appropriate cultural reference than the Simpsons with his proposals for Wimbledon - is that not a womble peering from the middle of the projection - albeit a womble portraying a malevolent character from an operatic piece?

    Perhaps the inaugural concert should be a tribute to a great and living British composer and adopted son of Wimbledon - Mike Batt?

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