Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Amin Taha demolition order • No listing for Broadgate • RIBA election fallout • Gold Medal for Grimshaw • Es Devlin designs Expo pavilion • Parenting and architecture
Amin Taha’s 15 Clerkenwell Close is hardly unique in dividing opinion over its architectural merits. While it won an RIBA National Award this year and seems widely beloved by architects, it was also nominated for the Carbuncle Cup. It is perhaps Taha’s misfortune that one of its detractors, Martin Klute, happens to be an Islington councillor and chair of its planning committee.
Klute, who has described the building as ‘hideous’, maintains the building is not what Taha submitted for planning in 2012, and the council has now issued a demolition order. Taha and his family occupy one of the flats in the six-storey building while his practice is also based in the building.
As the AJ reported in July last year, even before the building was complete, Klute claimed the building’s limestone façade had not been approved by planning officers. Taha says that it was changed from brick to stone with council approval,and that the council’s failure to upload these changes on to its website has caused the dispute.
But in the latest enforcement notice, the council now argues that fossils in the natural stone are ‘haphazard and deleterious to the conservation area’. Taha argues that since it is a natural stone, the appearance of any fossils would have only become apparent once the stone was split.
The dispute has been covered in the national media, including the Mail, the Sunand the Mirror – which has gone for the emotional angle with the headline ‘Dad told he must demolish £4.65 million home …’ The enforcement notice is being appealed and will now go to the Planning Inspectorate.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Camden Council has given Taha the go-ahead for an £8million overhaul of a 1970s office block less than half a mile away, fees for which should at least help to pay his mounting legal bills in the Islington dispute.
Poll: Should Amin Taha have to demolish 15 Clerkenwell Close?
• Yes, it’s an eyesore
• No, it’s lovely
• No, even though it’s ugly
Last week’s poll asked whether Foster + Partners was right to pay its partners £23 million in bonuses. 28 per cent had no problem with the payout; 24 per cent said save the money for bad times; 6 per cent thought the money should be used to hire more staff; while a mighty 42 per cent said the cash should be shared between all the practice’s staff.
Back in 2011, English Heritage described Broadgate, the City of London office development designed by Arup Associates, as ‘the supreme architectural expression of the 1980s office boom’ and recommended it for Grade II* listed status.
Last week its successor, Historic England, seemed to perform a complete about-turn, recommending that 1-2 Broadgate be given a Certificate of Immunity from listing, which will enable developer British Land to demolish the structures, replacing them with a 14-storey office-led building designed by AHMM.
Why the change of heart? Has 80s office architecture lost its cachet? Had the heritage organisation been leaned on? No, the answer lay in the government’s refusal to grant the original listing request, which meant that British Land was able to demolish and replace 4 and 6 Broadgate and revamp 3 Broadgate.
The result, says Historic England, is that the overall development has been so diminished that 1-2 Broadgate on its own is not worth preserving.
Rab Bennetts, who worked on the original scheme, says what has happened has ‘revealed a major anomaly in the listing system, in that each separate building was not necessarily good enough for listing but the development as a whole certainly was. There is no mechanism for listing the “group-value” of several buildings that are a coherent whole, nor is it possible to list the connecting spaces.’
Is it realistic, though, to insist that office buildings of a certain era be preserved? As the sector’s requirements change, don’t the buildings need to evolve accordingly?
Reader Vincent Wang comments that ‘the genius’ of Broadgate is that it created a place which is of a higher order than its individual buildings. The individual buildings can be redeveloped while the sense of place survives … ‘this is urbanism at its best’.
Bennetts makes the point that Broadgate won the 1991 RIBA Building of the Year, the award that later evolved into the Stirling. ‘It is hard to imagine another Stirling Prize winner being treated in this way,’ he remarks. Let’s see what Hastings Pier’s new owner, Abid Gulzar, does before we agree with that.
The Charity Commission has held talks with the RIBA following ‘damaging’ media coverage of the recent presidential election. This followed the institute’s filing of a ‘serious incident report’ over comments made by unsuccessful candidate Elsie Owusu during the campaign.
Owusu had described the RIBA as ‘institutionally racist’ and lacking in accountability and transparency. Not for the first time, this raises issues of just what the institute thinks elections are for.
Owusu felt there were significant problems with the RIBA and took the ultimate step of trying to change them by running for president. Arguably, her criticisms of the institute were necessarily a key element of her campaign.
The Charity Commission’s subsequent letter to the RIBA says it notes Owusu’s comments on ‘institutional racism’ and expects the institution to ‘ensure sufficient resources are directed towards this area’. It also stresses that RIBA trustees – of which Owusu is one – must ‘act in the charity’s best interests, act collectively and protect the reputation of the RIBA’.
The letter can clearly be read in different ways. Owusu sees it as a validation of her actions since she believes it is the very shortcomings she campaigned on that bring the RIBA into disrepute. Its president, Ben Derbyshire, has a different take, saying it highlighted ‘a very serious compliance issue’.
But the RIBA was doing little to dispel its reputation for secrecy at last Thursday’s council meeting. The AJ’s Ella Jessel was set to report from what promised to be a thrilling post-election meeting, but found herself shut out of more than half of the proceedings.
This is a professional body, representing its members – who of course fund it – yet apparently most of what it discusses can’t be reported back to those members. While a local council may occasionally exclude the media from certain proceedings, it has to be very specific in its reasons. The RIBA wouldn’t even tell Jessel the subjects that it was barring her from hearing about. Can RIBA Council’s agenda genuinely be that sensitive?
Nicholas Grimshaw has been named recipient of the 2019 RIBA Gold Medal. The 78-year-old architect was a pioneer of the High-Tech movement, working in partnership with Terry Farrell until he set up his own practice in 1980. His most notable scheme is arguably the Eden Project in Cornwall, versions of which the practice is now working on in Australia, New Zealand, China and Morecambe.
The medal is awarded for ‘significant influence on the advancement of architecture’ and previous recipients include Zaha Hadid, Archigram and, in 1999, the City of Barcelona.
Grimshaw, however, is the first UK-born architect to be awarded the Gold Medal since David Chipperfield in 2011. Two years ago, when Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha won the medal, Níall McLaughlin argued that as a result of the medal’s international remit, ‘Many brilliant British architects do not receive adequate acknowledgement for their life’s achievement’. He suggested the RIBA set up a separate award exclusively for UK-based architects.
Stage designer Es Devlin has been chosen to design the UK pavilion for the Dubai World Expo in 2020.
Devlin first made her reputation in the theatre, winning two Olivier Awards for set design and one for costumes. She gained a wider profile designing concert sets for artists such as Beyoncé, Pet Shop Boys and Adele.
Her design for the expo, the Poem Pavilion, will invite visitors to contribute a message to be turned into poetry and then displayed in LEDs.
This is not Devlin’s first foray into architecture. Earlier this year, she created one of the 39 longlisted concepts for a £1 million transformation of Old Street Roundabout, and her practice, Studio Es Devlin, includes a number of architecturally trained staff.
Could she be the next Thomas Heatherwick? She just needs to avoid commissions from dubious politicians.
The AJ’s regular new practice feature always asks its subjects how they are marketing themselves, with most revealing that they get the bulk of their work through word of mouth, while also finding having a website helpful.
But Richard John Andrews has given everyone a wake-up call with his revelation that he gets 40 per cent of his work from people following him on Instagram. He has used the social network to post progress pictures of his work ‘so people can view what I am up to’. You can check out his technique here.
Shutterstock mother and baby
Back in August, architect Pepper Barney told the AJ about why she quit BDP following her maternity leave after the practice declined her proposal for flexible working. Her piece became one of our best-read stories ever.
This week Daniele Sini argues that for women to be equally represented in senior roles, flexible working for fathers is also essential. His own employer, Richard Markland Architects, has provided such an arrangement for him, enabling him and his architect partner to share out childcare. He also believes that flexible working fosters more efficient work practices.
Now the AJ wants to get a measure of the wider picture of parenting within the profession and is seeking your views. Click here to complete our survey.
Simon Aldous’s Weekend Roundup is emailed exclusively to AJ subscribers every Saturday morning. Click here to find out more about our subscription packages