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Weekend roundup: US megafirm swallows up Penoyre & Prasad

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This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous: Perkins and Will buys Penoyre & Prasad • Government calls in Holocaust Memorial • Nouvel sued over concert hall overruns • OMA Manchester arts centre set for further cost hike

US design giant Perkins and Will has snapped up UK architect Penoyre & Prasad, adding the practice to its ever-swelling portfolio – it reported employing 718 architects worldwide in this year’s AJ100. 

The head of Perkins and Will’s London studio seemed almost blasé about the purchase. ‘We acquire firms all the time,’ he said. Hey, way to make the new bunch feel special!  

Penoyre & Prasad was set up in 1988, and if its founding partners were to be compared to chickens, they would not be of the ‘spring’ variety. Sunand Prasad – who was RIBA president between 2007 and 2009 – will be 70 next year, while Greg Penoyre is a few years younger but possibly keen to spend more time with his yacht

It’s at this point in a practice’s life that matters of succession have to be addressed. Increasingly there has been a trend for architects to become employee-owned, handing equity over to their staff. Earlier this year Assael (which is more than double the size of Penoyre & Prasad) announced it was going down this route, with John Assael saying he had turned down ‘significant money’ from a US company that wanted to buy the firm. 

Penoyre & Prasad, however, has opted for a buy-out, saying its team will benefit from its new owner’s capacity for research and development as well as its expertise in zero-carbon architecture. Perkins and Will, in turn, has been attracted by Penoyre & Prasad’s work in the healthcare sector – it won the competition to design a major eye-care centre for Moorfields and UCL back in January.  

Lest the incoming team fear they will lose their identity, they have been given their own section of Perkins and Will’s office as well as the assurance that the Penoyre & Prasad brand name will be retained for ‘as long as it makes sense’.

Fury as Holocaust Memorial decision is taken from council

Holocaust memorial playground

Holocaust memorial playground

Westminster City Council had been gearing up to decide whether to grant planning permission for the Holocaust Memorial, planned for Victoria Tower Gardens. The planning application for the scheme, designed by Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad, was submitted at the end of last year and had attracted some 4,500 comments.  

But the rug has been pulled from under the council. Housing minister Esther McVey has called in the scheme and it will now be the subject of a public inquiry.  

Since the original planning application came from the government, the fact that it will ultimately rule on its own scheme might appear to be a conflict of interest. The official line is that the scheme was submitted by the secretary of state so putting the final decision in the hands of a minister of state gets round any such issues.  

Opponents of the memorial are unimpressed to put it mildly – particularly as Westminster Council was widely believed to be about to reject the application. Ruth Deech, who is part of a group of Jewish peers against the project, called the move an ‘undemocratic power grab’.  

The call-in followed a request by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, which argued that, as a national scheme, the memorial should be determined at national level. It made its request just hours before Parliament was dissolved for the general election campaign, after which no such action could have been taken.  

Those campaigning against the memorial have argued that building it in Victoria Tower Gardens would overwhelm the small park. Its proponents, meanwhile, say that a prominent site near parliament is key to the message it seeks to convey. David Adjaye has gone so far as to say ‘disrupting the pleasure of being in the park is key to the thinking’.

Poll: Is the decision to call in the Holocaust Memorial …
• a cynical stitch-up to bypass local opposition?
• appropriate for a nationally significant project?
Vote here 

Last week’s poll asked whether you would consider joining the new Section of Architectural Workers trade union. A significant 74% of readers said they would while 8% said they disliked unions and 8% felt a union wouldn’t make any difference to working conditions. 11% said joining a union would be inappropriate for them.

Nouvel sued for €170 million over concert hall overruns

Philharmonie de paris

Philharmonie de paris

Buildings running late and going over budget – happens all the time. Architects being sued over this – we have a problem. Jean Nouvel’s Philharmonie de Paris opened in January 2015, having cost €386 million compared with its original budget of €173 million – an overrun of €213 million. And now the concert hall is suing his practice for €170 million, which includes €110 in penalties for the scheme overrunning.

If the action is successful it could send shivers down the spine of every practice designing large-scale projects in France. Nouvel’s lawyers have noted that the concert hall is suing only the architect and none of the other companies involved.

Can architects really be held responsible for such issues? Don’t such projects employ quantity surveyors to estimate likely costs and then keep tabs on them while construction proceeds? Or did Nouvel hold such clout that, midway through construction, he could spontaneously insist the stairs be made of diamonds?

That seems unlikely since Nouvel was apparently far from happy with the ‘finished’ building. He refused to attend its opening, claiming it was being held prematurely before it had undergone proper acoustic testing, and then launched an unsuccessful legal bid demanding ‘amending work’ to remedy 26 incidents of ‘non-compliance’ with his original design.

Nouvel says the action, if successful, would destroy his practice, but he doesn’t plan to let this happen. Instead, he is counter-suing, with his lawyer telling French newspaper Le Monde that he has filed a complaint of ‘bribery offences, favouritism, forgery and misappropriation of public funds’.

Complex designs raise cost of OMA’s arts centre



We can only hope matters proceed in a rather more civilised manner with OMA’s proposed arts centre in Manchester. The Factory has seen its projected cost rise three times since Manchester City Council originally submitted it for planning with a budget of £110 million.

By the end of last year that had climbed to £130 million, but now the council fears that will also prove too conservative. It is struggling to recruit builders to work within its budget. Apparently the building’s ‘complexity’ makes it an unattractive proposition. This despite the project team having done ‘quite a lot of re-engineering’ to make the project simpler and less expensive.

The council’s director of capital programmes Jared Allen blamed Manchester’s buoyant construction market, but could a shortage of construction workers also be part of the problem, as Eastern European builders join the Brexodus?

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