Hon. Vice Presidents
he promotion of an architectural competition to select a design for a sensitive site can be a route to resolving many conflicting interests in the planning and aesthetic challenges confronting the client or patron (depending on your point of view), whilst generating credibility of the design team selection process in the eyes of the local planning authority and the public at large. The RIBA fully appreciated this when they sanctioned the concept of ‘promoter’s choice’ whereby, having reviewed the challenge, they advanced a list of assessors, whom they felt could be entrusted with selecting a short list of designers from a carefully chosen list of competitors leaving the promoter to make the final selection. In the early 80’s, this process was adopted for a prominent location in Trafalgar Square on the corner of Northumberland Avenue and The Ian Henderson Strand at a time Consultant to Capital & Counties when the Square Properties PLC Cambridge University Land Society
was undergoing some quite radical revision with the remodelling and extension of the building behind Canada House and the extension to the National Gallery. HRH the Prince of Wales had intervened in the debate on the latter by describing the outcome as ‘a carbuncle on the face of a well loved familiar friend’ to the enduring damage to the reputation of the architectural team selected and whose scheme had to be abandoned. The Northumberland Avenue building was owned by Land Securities and made a significant contribution to the Boulevard Haussmann ambience that was created in the Avenue with the exception of a post-war monstrosity of a relatively small late fifties offices block of the post-war ‘egg crate’ style. Grand Buildings itself was of the fashionable Victorian era hotel design with the ground floor arcade, load bearing cross wall construction, high ceilings, with numerous narrow ensuite bathrooms: really quite inflexible for modern office use, but typical of the hotel era which saw The Strand as home to The Cecil, The Metropole, The Savoy, The Adelphi and Strand Palace, amongst others.
Added to which the builders had ‘bedded’ the stone incorrectly with its grain cut vertically rather than horizontally, which resulted in weather erosion after 100 years, which required regular inspection on cherry pickers to remove crumbling cornices and other projections. After a public inquiry following which the planning inspector sanctioned the demolition of a building in a Conservation Area, Westminster City Council were persuaded to participate in commenting on the parameters of the terms of an architectural competition of the design for a replacement to be undertaken on the terms of the RIBA’s promotor’s choice. Competitions are by no means the easiest route to obtaining a design, can be expensive to run and, when open to public entry, can be incredibly time consuming. In this case some 1,300 inquiries were made internationally and 287 architects submitted entries having paid an entry fee, which was intended to discourage frivolous submissions. In order to manage the process, Land Securities engaged the services of one Sir John Boynton sometime