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Weekend roundup: Schumacher ready for pantomime season

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Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Schumacher bids to remove Zaha will executors • Museum tender process run by one of the bidders • Grenfell Inquiry appoints replacement expert witness

Patrik Schumacher, the principal of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), has hit the headlines once again. Like many successful people, it would appear he sometimes needs to let off steam through certain questionable activities. But in his case this does not involve either sex or drugs but instead the need to be, as architect Peter Smisek tweeted, ‘ever the pantomime villain’. 

Schumacher took the reins at ZHA following the early and unexpected death of its founder, a woman who was synonymous with its unique and distinctive designs to a degree that made many wonder whether the practice could continue without her. In fact it has thrived, only last week being named as one of the practices which will design a whole new district of Moscow

So can we forgive him if every now and then he feels the need to be a little bit dastardly? 

There he is entering stage right to sinister piano chords. ‘Ah, Hyde Park,’ he quips. ‘What an ugly waste of unproductive space. Let’s put some buildings up all over it! Mwahahahaha!’ Unfazed by boos from the crowd, he continues: ‘Social housing? What a waste of taxpayers’ money. Sell the lot off. Once we’ve got rid of space standards, we’ll be able to create lots of reasonably priced micro-housing for the masses.’ 

Getting into the whole Dickensian theme, he has apparently taken as his latest inspiration, Bleak House, which revolves around a protracted court case tackling a disputed inheritance. 

Schumacher is one of four executors of Hadid’s estate – all chosen by the late architect – and, this week, he went to the High Court to try and have the other three removed. 

These three seem to have been appropriately cast for the production: a lord (Peter Palumbo) an artist (Brian Clarke) and – surely taking the Cinderella role – Zaha’s own niece Rana Hadid. Zaha left an estate of £70 million and Schumacher was the only non-family beneficiary named in the will – which also left money to her charity the Zaha Hadid Foundation. 

Intriguingly, Hadid gave the executors 125 years to distribute the estate, which is even longer than the Bleak House Jarndyce vs Jarndyce case. 

It is understood that Schumacher is trying to have the other three ousted because he is frustrated at the increasing interest they have taken in the running of ZHA. 

Hints of dissent among the four first surfaced shortly after Schumacher’s ‘scrap social housing’ speech two years ago. The other three issued a statement saying: ’Knowing Dame Zaha as well as we did, we can state categorically that she would have been totally opposed to these views and would have disassociated herself from them. We personally also totally disagree with these views.’ 

But perhaps we need to separate Schumacher the pantomime villain from Schumacher the architect. Four months later it was revealed that ZHA was drawing plans for its own social housing scheme in London. Brushing off the apparent anomaly, Schumacher explained away his previous remarks as ‘other hat thinking’ – an obvious reference to the roguish top hat visualised above. 

Poll: What proportion of Zaha Hadid’s estate do you think Patrik Schumacher should receive?
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Last week’s poll asked whether Roger Scruton should head the government’s new housing beauty watchdog. The answer was a resounding ‘no’ from 85 per cent of respondents.  

Poll result scruton

Poll result scruton

An intelligent way to run a competition?

Shutterstock spy

Shutterstock spy

The search for a team to design a new home for the Museum of Military Intelligence has had its integrity questioned after a bit of secret-agent-like digging around revealed that the firm running the procurement process is also one of the teams bidding for the job.

Project manager Cragg Management Services has drafted the invitation to tender – including valuation criteria – but is also leading a team, including Edinburgh practice Simpson & Brown Architects, which is hoping to win the design job for the Bedfordshire project. 

The £4.7 million project is the subject of a funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, whose rules demand that there are at least three bids for the work. 

But are there certain overtones of the Garden Bridge competition here, where Marks Barfield and WilkinsonEyre were invited to bid for a design job they had no realistic chance of winning? 

Some would-be bidders for the museum job now fear they would simply be making up the numbers before CMS was awarded the work. 

‘At least we know not to bother,’ said Chris Boyce, director of Assorted Skills + Talents, who predicted CMS would ‘win the next stage for sure’. 

And Russell Curtis, director of Project Compass which campaigns for procurement reform, commented: ‘It’s a pretty fundamental principle of public endeavours that even the perception of a conflict is enough to warrant concern, so it’s difficult to see how the Museum of Military Intelligence can justify allowing an organisation that is involved – even peripherally – in the tender process to also bid for that project.’ 

The museum has categorically denied there is any kind of stitch-up going on. It says CMS is simply acting as ‘the point of contact’ for bidders and that ‘the museum alone is evaluating the tender returns’. 

There have so far been 97 expressions of interest in the project, and museum trustee René Dee said he was confident at least three would submit compliant tenders. Which isn’t quite as inspiring as expressing confidence they would receive dozens of exciting and imaginative designs.

Grenfell Inquiry finds replacement expert witness

Paul hyett

Paul hyett

After the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was forced to sack its original architectural expert days after his appointment, it has played it safe finding a replacement.  

Back in June, it announced that John Priestley would take on the role. But it very quickly emerged that, despite telling the inquiry he was a registered architect, Priestly had not been registered with the ARB for eight years.  

In appointing a replacement, the inquiry has not only carried out the due diligence of checking that his name appears on the register, it has chosen a former RIBA president.  

Paul Hyett, an experienced expert witness and a specialist in forensic investigation, will now investigate the ‘architectural design’ of the tower’s controversial refurbishment.  

Hyett was RIBA president between 2001 and 2003, and generally well regarded, with the only hint of controversy occurring during his election campaign. Hyett was moved to speak out against the tactics of rival candidate Alex Reid, accusing him of falsely claiming that Hyett planned to allow non-architects to use the RIBA suffix. 

Reid was an unusual candidate, having only recently stood down as the RIBA’s chief executive. While in that job, staff numbers were severely reduced, earning him the nickname ‘Axe Reid’, and it caused general bemusement when he announced his candidacy in 2000.  

In the end, Hyett trounced him, attracting 45 per cent of first preferences compared with Reid’s 28 per cent.  

Also this week

• Construction work has begun on AHMM’s Bristol housing scheme for TV presenter Kevin McCloud’s HAB Housing. The £26 million, 161-home project is running behind schedule and was originally intended to be ready for occupation at the end of this year. Meanwhile, AHMM founding director Paul Monaghan has been made Liverpool City Region Design Champion by Liverpool’s mayor. 

• Renzo Piano Building Workshop has unveiled designs for a retail and office block within the emerging development hot-spot next to London Bridge Station. The practice has teamed up again with Shard developer Sellar for the scheme, which is planned for a warehouse building on the corner of Bermondsey Street and Snowsfield. A planning application is set to be submitted later this month.

• Westminster City Council is set to bring in a ban on building super-size properties. Under proposals in the council’s draft development plan, developers will not be able to build homes larger than 150m2 will. The move follows earlier measures to stop the trend for converting rows of neighbouring properties into single giant homes and limits on the size of basement developments. It says it wants to balance the demand for luxury mansions against ‘other, more strategic housing need’. 

• The Twentieth Century Society has called for a rethink of a Pollard Thomas Edwards cinema and restaurant scheme in the Essex town of Basildon. The society has urged Basildon Council to find an alternative site for the scheme, which it says would be ‘highly detrimental’ to the town centre, which was partly designed by Basil Spence in the 1950s.

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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