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Weekend roundup: Who’s trying to silence Chipperfield’s concert hall?

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Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Chipperfield’s Edinburgh concert hall • AHMM’s temporary parliament • Architects’ eight-year itch • Owusu ousted as chair of RIBA panel

In an unusual variation on what we’ve come to expect, heritage campaigners are upset that a new concert hall will spoil the view of a bank.  

David Chipperfield Architects’ £45 million concert hall, proposed for Edinburgh New Town is ‘too large and too tall’ according to the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, which is objecting to the scheme. To be fair, the bank building in question is Dundas House, a listed building dating back to 1774 though still operating as a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland – it’s the older building in the above visualisation.  

But while no one is casting aspersions on the society’s integrity, the charitable trust behind the concert hall, Impact Scotland, is upset by the way that another Edinburgh developer TH Real Estate has been stoking discontent.  

TH Real Estate is building a £469 million shopping mall in the city, to replace an unpopular 1970s shopping centre. And it says Chipperfield’s four-storey building will block views of its new W Hotel, which is set to offer public access to a 360-degree panorama from the top of its 12 storeys. 

According to a report in The Times, Impact Scotland is considering legal action after TH Real Estate sent letters to local residents urging them to lodge objections to the concert hall on the grounds of its scale and concrete façade.  

Impact Scotland’s chairman Ewan Brown said the letter contained misleading inaccuracies, and the charity was taking ‘appropriate action’.  

Chipperfield won a competition for the 1,000-capacity concert hall design last year and the scheme has been backed by Edinburgh heritage group the Cockburn Association.

House of Commons plan lacks floating voters

Ferry parliament

Ferry parliament

Another architectural proposal under fire is Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’s scheme for a temporary parliamentbuilding while the Palace of Westminster undergoes a £4 billion refurbishment.  

The practice wants to convert Grade II-listed Richmond House, a government building on Whitehall. While its façade would remain, much of the rest of the building would be demolished to make way for a replacement debating chamber – something that heritage campaigners oppose. Richmond House was designed by William Whitfield and Andrew Lockwood and completed in 1986.

The controversy has provoked reminders of earlier alternative proposals. SAVE Britain’s Heritage is highlighting Michael Hopkins’ suggestion that the atrium of his firm’s Portcullis House building could be used as the chamber. The heritage group says this option would have environmental and cost savings over AHMM’s plan.  

And Studio Octopi founder Chris Romer-Lee has protested that his plan to house parliament in disused Woolwich ferries has not been taken seriously. The three ferries are due to be decommissioned, and Romer-Lee had suggested one could house the Commons chamber and one the Lords, with the third used for meeting rooms and offices. 

He says the whole project would have cost £55 million. Instead the ferries have been sold to a scrap merchant for £37,000 each.  

Meanwhile one of the original architects behind Richmond House, Andrew Lockwood, seems a whole lot less angry about the whole affair.  

‘It’s difficult to stamp your foot as an architect and say you can’t demolish a building,’ he told the AJ. ‘An awful lot of our buildings have been altered, but it is because the user requirements have changed. You have no right to expect your buildings to outlive you.’

Is it just me or are architects getting younger?

Shutterstock child architect

Shutterstock child architect

Working for a practice, feeling that urge to go it alone, but waiting till you have acquired the necessary experience and maturity? You may have already missed the boat.  

A survey by insurance broker PolicyBee shows that architects who set up their own practices do so, on average, eight years and eight months after qualifying – with one in ten setting up immediately after getting their Part 3.  

‘These findings throw out the traditional school of thought, which was that most architects set up their own practice later in life,’ the broker said. ‘They’re actually doing it much earlier, in their early to mid-30s.’  

Older readers should not despair though. This is merely the average. Ken Shuttleworth was in his 50s when he set up Make, having already been a partner at Fosters and (possibly) designed the Gherkin before deciding to start his own firm.  

Dicky Lewis of White Red Architects, which he helped set up a few years after qualifying, attributes his youthful endeavour to ‘an entrepreneurial buzz’ that’s around. He adds that there’s a new attitude where ‘young practices look to engage with each other rather than hide our secrets away. We are having a Christmas pub crawl.’  

And Richard John Andrews, a Part 2 architectural designer, says that since he set up his own studio last summer, he has seen improvements in both his work-life balance and his income. Which may fly in the face of other people’s experiences unless his problem with a work-life balance was that he wanted to work more.  

Poll With architects setting up their own practices on average eight years and eight months after qualifying, what is your situation? 
• I’ve already set up my own firm 
• Quite happy being an employee, thanks 
• I’m considering starting my own practice 
• I think I may have missed my moment 
Vote here 

Last week’s poll asked how you felt about Fosters’ Bloomberg HQ winning the Stirling. A fairly evenly split result saw 48 per cent seeing the result in a positive light, while 52 per cent were unhappy about the jury’s choice. 

Poll stirling result

Poll stirling result

Also this week

  • The RIBA has removed Elsie Owusu from her position as chair of its diversity group Architects for Change. Institute president Ben Derbyshire told Owusu that it was no longer possible for her to lead the group after she accused an RIBA staff member of bullying, racial and sexual harassment and discrimination. The RIBA said an independent review had ‘fully exonerated’ the staff member after it could not find any evidence in support of the allegations, but that Owusu had refused to withdraw her claims or apologise for them and refused to work with the staff member.  
  • Norman Foster has been announced as a member of an advisory board for Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion NEOM projectfor a megacity to be built in the desert. He will be one of 18 ‘global experts’ helping with the scheme. The announcement comes amid an escalating crisis over the missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has been alleged that Khashoggi was tortured and killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The advisory board met for the first time in August, but since Khashoggi’s disappearance, some of its members have been distancing themselves from the project.  
  • The Southbank Centre has ditched its controversial plan to put a pop-up bar on the roof of the Royal Festival Hall. The centre had defended its proposals for a 686m2 pavilion, saying it would help fund a permanent performance space on the roof which would replace the pop-up. But the proposal angered both Historic England and the Twentieth Century Society. The Southbank Centre says it withdrew the proposals because the feasibility of the retail proposition proved ‘more challenging than anticipated’.  
  • Manchester City Council has rejected SimpsonHaugh’s35-storey tower designed for former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff. His property company Logik Developments wanted to build the 386-home scheme in the Castlefield area of the city centre. The council’s planning committee said the building would have a negative impact on the Grade II-listed St George’s church and dominate the Castlefield conservation area.  
  • And in case you thought every architectural proposal was being rejected or abandoned, we end with the news thatMake has won permission on appeal for a 49-storey housing tower block near Canary Wharf. The 332-home scheme was turned down by Tower Hamlets Council for being ‘too large’, but a government planning inspector ruled that the site was appropriate for tall buildings, and that Make’s design would deliver ‘a high-quality, high-density development and public realm … complementing the tall building cluster in Canary Wharf. Lead architect Frank Filskow attributed the turnaround to the use of virtual reality, which the practice used to help the inspector ‘assess the scheme on site’.

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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