This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous Stirling Prize shortlist revealed • Mayor rejects Fosters’ Tulip • Libeskind reveals Hampstead Maggie’s Centre design • Concern over changes to Neave Brown estate • Hawkins\Brown criticised over demolition plans
Do we finally have a Stirling shortlist that recognises the climate crisis?
Of the six buildings in the running, two are inherently sustainable while two broadly come under the retrofit label. The remaining two – Rogers Stirk Harbour’s Macallan Distillery and Feilden Fowles’ sculpture park visitor centre – are both a far cry from the vast hulk of Fosters’ Bloomberg HQ, which won last year despite deep reservations expressed by the jury’s sustainability adviser Simon Sturgis.
Cork House, by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, is made entirely from cork, using by-product and waste from cork forestry and the cork stopper industry, making it carbon-negative at completion with very low lifetime carbon emissions. Whether these techniques could have a wider use is debatable though, possibly requiring a major increase in wine-drinking.
Mikhail Riches and Cathy Hawley’s Goldsmith Street scheme in Norwich ticks rather more boxes, being Passivhaus-standard social housing in Norwich. A win for this attractive scheme could be more effective in championing well-designed homes than any alienating pronouncements from the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.
Early bookies odds made the Macallan Distillery (pictured) the favourite, which on previous form means it almost certainly won’t win. The AJ’s Rob Wilson has expressed his surprise at its inclusion, describing it as ‘old-school hi-tech’ though it’s possible that aspect could appeal to a nostalgic jury.
Wilson himself will be slipping down to William Hill to lay a crafty pony on Grimshaw’s bold revamp of London Bridge station, which he describes as ‘an exceptionally intelligent rework of a labyrinthine transport interchange’.
As a building, it is far removed from any ideas of architectural icons. Seen from some angles outside, you would scarcely be aware that anything had changed. Yet inside a previously somewhat pokey station has been transformed, with smart new platforms and a vast yet elegant concourse.
Plus in the same way that designing new airports can be seen as ethically dubious, it surely follows that improving the infrastructure for a much less environmentally damaging mode of transport deserves a big pat on the back.
Last week’s poll asked which of the beauty commission’s recommendations you most welcomed. The clear winner with 42% was ‘scrap VAT for retrofit projects’, while 27% were fans of its call for ’more masterplanning’. Only 9% went with its call for councils to name and shame ugly buildings. However, 22% opted for the ’none; they’re all batshit crazy’ option. Which perhaps demonstrates how unnecessarily alienating the whole process has been so far.
There was metaphorical dancing in the streets this week as another London vanity project bit the dust. Foster + Partners’ Tulip tower has been rejected by London mayor Sadiq Khan on the grounds of it being an ‘insufficient quality’ building, which would harm London’s skyline and adversely affect views of the Tower of London World Heritage Site.
Back in April when the Tulip won planning permission from the City of London, the main objection advanced by Historic England and Historic Royal Palaces was its detrimental effect on the Tower of London. Yet in a Weekend Roundup poll asking what readers’ main objection to the scheme was, only 2 per cent felt this was the prime issue, compared with 53 per cent who thought it would be an ‘embarrassing eyesore’.
So in a way it feels as if the Tulip has been defeated on a technicality – a bit like Al Capone being convicted of tax evasion – with more fundamental objections left by the wayside.
Writing in the AJ, tourism expert Dan Anderson says the mayor’s report ‘seems to blindly accept the somewhat frivolous reasons for building the Tulip’. He argues that London now has plenty of high-level viewing experiences and planners should stop putting publicly accessible rooftop spaces on their section 106 wishlists.
Better to build luxury penthouses on the top of these buildings, he says, then spend the proceeds down at street level ‘where it will make an actual difference to the communities affected’.
And then there is the environmental argument: that in this time of climate crisis, the construction of an unnecessary and inflexible tower with a huge amount of embodied carbon is indefensible.
Of course, plenty of other planned buildings will also exacerbate global warming so cancelling the Tulip on these grounds is arguably largely symbolic. But perhaps right now, a symbolic gesture would be no bad thing.
Libeskind maggies lookalike 2
Daniel Libeskind has revealed the designs for his Hampstead Maggie’s Centre, which will be attached to the Royal Free Hospital. The ‘sculptural’ building features timber vertical louvres, to be manufactured offsite, which will be oriented to act as shading devices and create intimate spaces inside the building.
The 26-room scheme will be the 21st Maggie’s cancer care centre to be built in the UK, with Libeskind joining the roll call of top architects to provide their services for free in designing the centres – among them Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers, who won the 2009 Stirling Prize for his London Maggie’s.
The design was hardly met with delight by those reacting on Twitter. Piers Taylor tweeted: ‘Oh god. Make it stop.’ while another architect likened its appearance to an expanding file.
Alexandra estate camden steve cadman (1)
A week before the announcement of the shortlist for the RIBA’s inaugural Neave Brown Award for affordable housing, heritage campaigners have expressed alarm at work being carried out at the late architect’s Alexandra Road estate.
Both the Twentieth Century Society and fellow conservation body DoCoMoMo UK have voiced massive concerns over the impact of a kitchen replacement programme at the Grade II*-listed 1978 housing block.
Visiting the site this month, the organisations reported seeing original tiles removed and dumped, smashed concrete worktops, and laminated chipboard units replacing the custom-made plywood originals.
Camden Council granted listed building consent in October 2017 for works designed by Levitt Bernstein to carry out a Better Homes Programme upgrade of kitchens, bathrooms and electrical wiring across the estate.
Neave Brown expert Mark Swenarton said ‘The destruction of the Neave Brown interiors at Alexandra Road currently taking place is nothing short of a scandal.
Levitt Bernstein said that while it shared concerns over the estate, but said it had not been appointed to oversee work on the site. Camden has now asked the practice to have ‘100 per cent oversight of future developments’ and says it is working to ensure the estate’s architectural heritage is preserved.
Allbrook house and library
Residents of the Alton Estate in south-west London have criticised a Hawkins\Brown scheme that involves demolishing a substantial part of the scheme.
The 12.5ha estate was built by London County Council in the late 1950s, designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt. The Twentieth Century Society has described it as one of the ‘jewels in the crown’ of the council’s post-war housing programme. Much of it was listed in the 1990s.
Last year, Richard Rogers and David Adjaye were among signatories to a letter calling for the conservation of the estate’s Allbrook House and Library, one of the buildings not listed and now due for demolition. The building featured on the Twentieth Century’s Top 10 buildings at Risk List, published last week.
Wandsworth Council and its development partner Redrow have submitted plans for the major overhaul which would involve building 1,103 homes on the site.
The council says its scheme will bring new homes, shops, community facilities, better open space and a revamped library – and it maintains that it has been developed in full consultation with the local community.
Hawkins\Brown says its proposal ‘retains the integrity of the estate masterplan’.
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