Sunday, 29 August 2010

New does not mean bad

To Gustafson Porter's delightful and popular Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, with visitors to London who have not seen it before. They are hugely impressed - particularly so since (habitual readers of the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail) they had been predisposed, from memories of press coverage when it opened, to think that it was a great disaster and scandalous waste of money.

There is so often such negativity about anything new, bold, interesting, different that is to be built. The Angel of the North, now a proud symbol for the whole of Geordiedom, famously only happened because of the courage of a few individuals who stuck their necks out in the face of near universal moaning and ridicule.

It seems that neophobia is often a self-limiting condition. Unfortunately, though, bad decisions can be taken by people in the grip of it.

We are used to the consequences of this. What is less clear is the extent to which it is genuinely widespread, or the consequence of a a few noisy people with sharp elbows getting their way. Sometimes there is a ray of sunshine - congratulations, for example, to the Councillors of South Oxfordshire, who have approved Rowan Atkinson's Richard Meier-designed country house scheme against the recommendations of their officers to refuse it.

Monday, 2 August 2010


Ace Guardian reporter Rob Booth, formerly editor of Building Design magazine, writes in today's Guardian on the government of Iran's plans for a new embassy in South Kensington.

Proposed for a prime site that has sat mystifyingly empty for decades, the scheme looks designed to provoke a reaction. And that's what it's got - locals are already calling on Prince Charles to intervene. I feel a bit sorry for him in this case - he runs the risk of being seen as forever on call as a royal rent-a-nimby. Perhaps a case for a discreet private letter? But who to write to? Since the Iranian regime is a 'theocratic republic', HRH may have less of an obvious route to the top than elsewhere in the Middle East.

The scheme itself, as far as one can tell from the image published in the Guardian, seems to conflate the idea or parti behind Rem Koolhaas' Dutch embassy in Berlin (freestanding modern object cunningly integrated into corner of traditional urban block) with the sort of architecture that served for London's German embassy (modern, but reassuringly stucco), then given a further modern twist (corners of windows at 80 degrees or so, rather than the old fashioned 90).

The progress of this scheme will be worth watching. Will CABE pronounce? English Heritage? Could there be opportunities for them to gain or lose brownie points where it matters, in the current uncertain climate for both bodies?