Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: AHMM’s temporary parliament provokes heritage furore • dRMM boss’s anger over slot machines on Hastings Pier
AHMM has revealed its design for a temporary House of Commons while the current one is refurbished, provoking an outcry from heritage organisations.
As was announced last year, the facility will be built in Grade II*-listed Richmond House, designed by William Whitfield and Andrew Lockwood and completed in 1986. The building had been occupied by the Department of Health but has been unused since 2017. A parliamentary spokesperson said that the building functioned very poorly as an office.
So a building that no longer serves its original purpose is being turned into something useful in the best retrofit tradition. What could be the problem with that?
‘Retrofit’ could be stretching it a bit. Apart from its façade, the listed building will be pretty much demolished
The problem is that the term ‘retrofit’ could be stretching it a bit. Apart from its façade, the listed building will be pretty much demolished. That’s quite a drastic course of action to accommodate a use not anticipated to last more than eight years.
SAVE Britain’s Heritage’s Marcus Binney described the proposal as ‘state-sponsored vandalism’ adding that it was a ‘grotesque waste of public money to destroy a 30-year-old government building’.
Twentieth Century Society director Catherine Croft, meanwhile, called it ‘wanton destruction’ and wondered why the facility couldn’t have been relocated to a park – a plucky stance to take amid the controversy over the siting of the Holocaust Memorial.
AHMM’s visualisations show a Commons interior very much in keeping with the current one, with the familiar two banks of green benches facing one another, though with better wheelchair accessibility and, the practice says, greater visibility for the public and press.
Fundamentally, the scheme needs to provide all of the MPs’ existing facilities so that they can continue to function unhindered during the refurb. And apparently it takes a lot of facilities to enable a bunch of 650 representatives to fail to make a decision about Brexit.
The scheme also includes committee rooms, voting lobbies and working space for the MPs and staff. It is expected to cost up to £1.6 billion and needs to be completed before the Palace of Westminster can be vacated and the BDP-led £4 billion restoration and renewal programme begin.
This is a programme that has gathered fresh momentum following the recent Notre Dame Cathedral fire. The Palace of Westminster has suffered frequent small fires, including seven between January and November 2017 alone. Most have been put out quickly but as Cabinet Office minister David Lidington put it, ‘with each year that passes, the risk of a catastrophic fire grows’.
Holding up AHMM’s work will be the need to obtain planning permission to gut Richmond House, a move that Historic England may not be particularly keen on – though it can be overruled by the culture secretary.
But does the government need this hassle when other less contentious options were also available, such as Michael Hopkins’ suggestion of using the atrium at his practice’s Portcullis House?
Poll: Where should the House of Commons operate during the Palace of Westminster refurbishment?
• Stick with AHMM’s design
• Convert an unlisted building instead
• Relocate to a park
• Suspend parliament during the refurb
Last week’s poll asked: What should backers of Adjaye’s competition-winning Holocaust Memorial do amid controversy over the site? While 11 per cent supported the revised design and 12 per cent favoured sticking to the original competition-winning version, an overwhelming 77 per cent backed a new site and a rerun contest.
Shutterstock coins wv
Things are going from bad to worse at Hastings Pier, as far as Alex de Rijke is concerned. As if gold hippos weren’t bad enough, the borough council has now given the pier’s owner permission to devote half of the pier’s visitor centre to slot machines.
De Rijke’s practice dRMM won the 2017 Stirling Prize for its community-focused regeneration of the pier, which sought to eradicate the tacky clichés of such structures. He is now beside himself.
‘Hastings Pier Visitor Centre was paid for by Heritage Lottery, whose criteria was that the building be used for education,’ he told the AJ. ‘Its conversion to slot machine arcades is inviting children to learn to gamble in the dark.’
Some readers, however, thought the addition might be just what was needed. ‘Good. The current pier is crap as there is nothing to do,’ wrote Simon Armstrong. While, in more measured terms, Chris Medland added: ‘The 2p machines and seaside tradition of silly arcade games etc has been around since the Victorian times and architects risk coming across as patronising and aloof by suggesting that somehow a design is above such lowbrow culture.’
Hastings resident Philip Oakley, meanwhile, thought the real story was how Britain’s top architecture prize had gone to a building that went bust so quickly. ‘From the moment the pier reopened it was only a matter of time before it went bust because there was simply too few revenue streams to cover costs of something like £700k a year,’ he said, adding that ‘the internal spaces for education and community use remained largely unused as they don’t seem to fulfill any purpose outside of ticking a box on the lottery application form.’
While conceding that ‘the deck looks stunning’ he said that events set to be held on the pier were often cancelled due to adverse weather or ‘strong winds’ of 10 mph. ‘So is this good design, let alone great design, when doomed to fail?’
But this can’t be the only choice – a gateway to gambling or a dull empty space. Maybe pier owner Abid Gulzar should take a look at Southwold Pier in Suffolk where the highlight is Tim Hunkin’s Under the Pier Show.
This eccentric collection of home-made machines takes the traditional arcade theme and turns into something quite unique, with attractions including Whack a Banker, a gene forecaster, and a simulator where you experience life as a housefly. It’s truly imaginative, very popular and revenue generating.
Also this week
Isle of Man winner A rural retreat (pictured) designed by Foster Lomas has become the first ever building on the Isle of Man to win an RIBA regional award. The London practice’s Restorative Rural Retreat for Sartfell, which combines drystone walls and a green roof, was awarded a North West regional award on Wednesday night as well as a sustainability award. The entire site’s energy use is carbon neutral, using ground source heating and a wind turbine.
Haworth Tompkins embraces employee power Stirling Prize-winning practice Haworth Tompkins has become the latest architect to become employee-owned – partly at least. The firm has established an employee ownership trust that holds 55 per cent of its shares, while five directors share the remaining 45 per cent. The company will be overseen by five trustees, made up of two directors and an associate director along with two independent voices: employee ownership lawyer Robert Postlethwaite and Colander director Caroline Cole. Similar transitions this year by Assael and Purcell mean that employee-owned firms now make up around a fifth of practices in the AJ100.
Eric Parry posts big loss Eric Parry Architects has posted a £1.5 million loss and reported a large drop in staff numbers and turnover. Its accounts for the year ending 31 July 2018, show turnover fell from £7.1 million to £5.5 million while its workforce shrank by 15 per cent from 94 to 80 people. But the practice insists it has turned a corner since then, winning a number of major commissions, including the £240 million cybercrime courthouse and police HQ in the City of London and the centrepiece tower at Bishopsgate Goodsyard, which it says will ‘contribute a substantial turnover over the next few years’.
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