Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: ARB strikes off ACA Council member • Referendum halts Fosters’ Mexico airport •Political threat to O’Donnell + Tuomey campus • Hammond set to relax rules on upward extensions
Congratulations to former architect Stephen Yakeley, who has been made an honorary member of the Association of Consultant Architects (ACA).
And what noteworthy contribution has he made to the profession to merit this honour? The improbable answer: he’s been struck off the ARB register after being found guilty of charging excessive fees.
The ARB’s professional conduct committee heard that Yakeley was appointed to refurbish a 72m2 basement flat, with an ‘indicative budget’ of £100,000 including fees. Four months later Yakeley came back with three alternative schemes. The cheapest option cost £343,000, which did not include either his fees or VAT.
The client decided he did not want to proceed with the project and – rather reasonably it might seem – asked to be billed for Yakeley’s design work. Thanks very much, said Yakeley, that’ll be £74,000.
Yes, a client who thought he was commissioning a flat refurb for £100,000 was now being charged three-quarters that for no refurb.
When the client disputed the figure, Yakeley invoiced him for a further £45,000 for dealing with the complaint – and then another £28,000 for dealing with the client’s solicitor, before asking for a total sum of £182,000 to settle.
The dispute subsequently went to an adjudicator, who said the client should pay Yakeley a rather more modest £30,000. Yakeley accused the adjudicator of bias and refused to pay the adjudication fee.
At the subsequent ARB hearing, Yakeley told the conduct committee he was ‘not a cost expert and [could not] be blamed for the cost overrun’. He also criticised his solicitor for providing poor legal advice. The ARB, however, described Yakeley’s actions as ‘truly appalling’.
So you may be wondering why the ACA – an organisation that ‘promotes and enables high standards in practice within [its] membership’ – has responded by making Yakeley an honorary member.
Yakeley, it transpires, is a member of its council and, now he can no longer call himself an architect, honorary membership is a way of him retaining his position.
Indeed, ACA president Brian Waters is highly supportive of Yakeley, saying he fears the ARB’s decision threatens the ‘ability of architects to claim unpaid fees without fear of being struck off’.
No mention, then, of how potential clients might be deterred from hiring architects by the fear of being excessively charged.
Poll results saudi
Anti architecture vote
Hot on the heels of schemes by Chipperfield and Fosters coming a cropper following a change in government at Stockholm City Council, there comes news of another project falling foul of the democratic will.
Foster + Partners had designed a $14.3 billion airport for Mexico City, which was halfway through construction when Mexicans were given the opportunity to decide the project’s fate through a nationwide referendum.
And the view of the people of Mexico was loud and crystal clear: they really didn’t give a stuff. A staggeringly low turnout of 1.2 per cent demonstrated that 98.8 per cent of the electorate couldn’t even be bothered to vote on the issue, so low was it on their radar of interests.
Unfortunately for those championing the airport, of those who did vote, 70 per cent favoured scrapping the scheme and the project has been cancelled.
The airport had become a dividing issue in last July’s presidential election. It was severely criticised by winning candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will take office next month.
He takes over from current president Enrique Peña Nieto, who spearheaded the project, arguing the new airport would create 450,000 jobs and ease traffic at Mexico City’s overcrowded Benito Juarez Airport. Obrador instead favours upgrading the existing airport as well as adding two runways at a military airport south of the city.
Local architects are unhappy with the move, according to a report in Dezeen, saying it ‘reveals projects in Mexico are based on short-term, personal and political issues and corruption’.
Fosters’ scheme featured an enormous lightweight gridshell roof spanning 100m, about three times larger than most airport terminals. Around $5 billion has already been spent on the project, and it is unclear what will become of the site, where foundations had already been constructed.
O’d+t budapest uni
Another architect finding itself on the wrong side of politicians is Dublin practice O’Donnell + Tuomey, which last year completed the first phase of its project for the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.
Its limestone-clad teaching building provides a public face to the university and is part of a masterplan to consolidate the institution – currently dispersed over a number of sites – into a single 35,000m2 campus. In September, the RIBA announced that it was one of four buildings shortlisted for its RIBA International Prize 2018.
But now the future of the building – and its planned future phases – is in doubt following a series of attacks on the university by Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán.
The right-wing populist leader, whose party had a decisive electoral victory this year, has been critical of both the university’s academic agenda and its founder, Hungarian-US billionaire George Soros.
The university now says it has been forced out of Hungary as it does not believe the government will guarantee its institutional integrity and academic freedom. It is set to open a satellite campus in Vienna next year and is now considering fully relocating there.
The second phase of O’Donnell + Tuomey’s project, meanwhile, is understood to be on indefinite hold.
Will this harm the prospects for the first phase winning the RIBA prize? O’Donnell + Tuomey has been shortlisted for the Stirling five times without ever winning; but as we saw with dRMM’s Hastings Pier win last year, juries may have sympathy for a beleaguered project.
On a more positive note, the practice this week revealed detailed designs for V&A East, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s east London outpost to be built on the Olympic Park waterfront.
Monday’s Budget confirmed a handful of policies aimed at easing the housing crisis, most notably a proposed relaxation in permitted development rules – allowing buildings to be extended upwards without planning permission.
No final decision has been made, but the government is running a consultation on the issue until 14 January.
As well as easing rooftop additions, the rule change would also allow commercial properties to be developed and replaced by homes, and shops to be converted to a wider range of uses – including leisure and community as well as housing.
The consultation document says the policy offers ‘the opportunity to bring forward well-designed homes which enhance the streetscape’.
Quite how allowing such changes to bypass the planning process will ensure well-designed homes is not explained.
Indeed, RIBA president Ben Derbyshire warned that previous permitted development of offices to housing ‘has led to terrible homes’.
Poll: Should the government allow rooftop housing extensions without planning approval to help tackle the housing crisis?
• Yes, good idea
• No, will lead to bad designs
• No, for other reason
Last week’s poll asked whether architects should accept work in Saudi Arabia. The response was pretty much split down the middle, with 53 per cent saying no, and 47 per cent saying yes, though of those nearly half only favoured it if the work was socially beneficial.
Also this week
Zumthor jack hobhouse
- Peter Zumthor’s long-awaited holiday house (above) in Devon has been on display to the press as it nears completion. The rammed-concrete five-bedroom house, the Secular Retreat, is the last of seven such houses designed by prestigious architects for Living Architecture. Others include MVRDV’s Balancing Barn and FAT’s A House for Essex, designed with artist Grayson Perry.
- John Pardey Architects has won approval for what it is calling ‘the first truly modern house within the Peak District National park’. The £1 million single-storey 420m² home will replace an existing barn on the site. Construction is due to start in January.
- Farrells has won planning permission for a £520 million skyscraper development in south-east London. The Ruby Triangle project, for a site on Monopoly-turkey the Old Kent Road, will comprise four towers ranging from 17 to 48 storeys, with a total of 1,152 homes, of which 40 per cent will be affordable.
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