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The unusual suspects - some stories keep on coming back

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The RIBA and Israel, the Garden Bridge, Smithfield… some stories just won’t go away, says Richard Waite

Every year throws up a story that won’t go away – the Chelsea Barracks debacle, Holyrood’s spiralling costs, RMJM’s implosion… But 2014 has been a bumper 12 months for ‘the repeat offender’.

In my 10 years at the AJ, I cannot remember so many stories that have twisted and turned, headed off in new directions and even returned from the dead – sometimes with more venom and intensity than before they were seemingly buried.

In March, the RIBA’s motion calling for the suspension of Israel’s architecture body from the International Architects Union blasted on to our pages. Unfortunately for the institute’s president Stephen Hodder, it remained in the headlines for most of the year.

The RIBA’s hope is that last week’s emphatic vote to overturn the resolution will finally end the fiasco, although I suspect it won’t

The embattled Hodder has repeatedly tried to draw a line under the matter – an opinion-splitting motion which has clearly wrecked his presidential agenda. Each time the issue appeared to have been kicked into the long grass, it re-emerged. But it is hardly Hodder’s fault. The institute has come across as naive in its handling of what is a complex and sensitive matter, and its standing as an astute professional body has been damaged.

The RIBA’s hope is that last week’s emphatic vote to overturn the original resolution will finally end the fiasco, although I suspect it won’t.

Next up is the Garden Bridge, a slow burner which began to fizz spectacularly in the summer.  Thomas Heatherwick’s designs for a planted bridge across the Thames were widely welcomed when first unveiled. But as people considered it further, and more details emerged, the metaphorical cracks began to appear.

Would it block views? Why would it close at night? Who would be paying for its maintenance? Was such a costly scheme needed? And, as we reveal this week, how was Heatherwick selected for the job in the first place? In the past couple of months, conditional approval for Joanna Lumley’s pet project was given by both Westminster and Lambeth councils.

The ever supportive London mayor Boris Johnson will, no doubt, rubberstamp it too. But don’t underestimate the opponents. Judicial review and a call-in have been demanded.  The story will rumble on into 2015.

Closure, however, seems tantalisingly near for two other long-running, column-filling sagas – both in London’s Smithfield.

In the spring we reported on the unexpected barrage of protest against Steven Holl’s plans for a Maggie’s cancer care centre next to the listed Grade I-listed Great Hall at St Barts hospital. Film stars and a royal gynaecologist were up in arms over the US architect’s Modernist proposal.

Though the scheme was narrowly approved by the City of London, its opponents demanded a judicial review. The courts beckoned. Then came news that a deal had been brokered). A happy ending.

And as 2014 draws to a close, a palatable-to-all solution for Smithfield Market may also be around the corner. After much spleen-venting by both sides, John McAslan + Partners’ plans for the Victorian market were finally thrown out in July by communities secretary Eric Pickles – a move that delighted SAVE, but infuriated developer Henderson. Then came a surprise white knight: the Museum of London.

The organisation wants a new home away from the Barbican, and what better location than a large, empty, historic building in a busy area of town? An ideal match.

Done deal? Not quite. Nothing has been signed yet.

More intriguingly, what would become of the museum’s current Powell & Moya-designed building and its office-ripe, prime City site? That is another story – the beginning of a new epic for 2015.

Richard Waite @waitey


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