A presentation and question and answer session was held recently with the architects and college staff championing the South East Quadrant Project. The consultation is part of new planning laws which require an opportunity for members of the local community to put their views accross before planning permission is sought. The exhibition was designed to promote the project's brief, and show how the proposed building design would fulfil these credentials.
Concept drawings and models were displayed in the SAF Foyer on the South Kensington Campus. The new building will house centralised shared teaching for the whole of the college and give a street side exhibition space where departments can showcase their work. An open plan lower ground floor area wraps around for conferencing and the exterior has been designed to minimise energy demands on the building as a whole. Each of the bays will be angled to face out of the sun to prevent over heating while seeking to maintain the amount of natural light in the room. This is a pioneer in the Higher Education BREEAM (Environmental Assessment Method) Pilot Programme of which the SEQ Project is part.
Lessons have been learnt from the Southside Building, with the pale cream exterior being precision engineered by a Swiss firm to control waste run-off. This will mean the building will maintain its 'as new' look for longer than the, now water marked, blocks on the outside of the Southside Halls of Residence.
A good contingent from Foster & Partners showed up to battle with local residents who turned out to challenge them on their new project as well as the other Foster's Buildings on campus. Foster & Partners represent the 'marmite' of the architectural world. Responsible for such iconic buildings as City Hall, the Sage at Gateshead, the St. Pancras Station Renovation and the Atrium at the British Museum; you either love it or hate it. A student commented that they had chosen Imperial based on the Fosters Buildings on the campus while local residents described them as 'ugly and inappropriate'. Two other passing students conversed: "It's going to look so weird." "Just like the people!"
The Exhibition Road Redevelopment also came under attack, with Michael Jones of Foster & Partners speaking in support saying that it is an "international space including the city's foremost museums". He disagreed with residents that the area should be a rival for Trafalgar Square where recent changes have made vast improvements to traffic flow.
Local residents' concerns centred on a perceived "lack of respect to the local buildings." Richard Burgess described himself as 'passionate about architecture and environment' saying his ' overall impression: not good architecture. Yes, it replaces even more awful sixties buildings but it still should be better architecture. The facade is more suitable to the mediterranean or a Dubai Hotel. [It's] so appallingly arrogant in crushing the buildings next door."
Suggestions that the new building should lose a storey and be set back slightly from the road so that it is less dominant on the buildings to the South were noted. The difficulty faced is that the remaining wing of the Royal College of Science Building (now the Science Museum group entrance) is already dwarfed in comparison to the Natural History Museum and the Goldsmiths Extension of the Royal School of Mines. The new Imperial College Building would be matched in height to the latter of these buildings. By and large those present seemed generally ignorant of the complexities involved in producing the designs, with one lady suggesting that all they did was generate buildings from a computer programme. It is likely, therefore, that many of the suggestions will not be able to be taken on board. The wildest of these was to build a modern interiorg but to encase it in a fake facade to mimic the historical buildings on the street.
Criticism has also been generated by the London Evening Standard where a comment suggested "Imperial is, with out doubt, the ugliest University in England. They have devastated the Kensington area with really "bling" buildings. They are incapable of building any structures of any cultural merit." User-Coordinator for the SEQ Project, Dr. Shaun Crofton responded: "The Evening Standard... does not have a monopoly on style or culture within the capital. The future of Albertopolis should not [be] surrendered to an individual's vision of cultural merit especially if he/she is not a taxpayer."
Live! came away with the impression that it doesn't matter what is put in place of the current mechanical engineering exterior, the residents will never be happy. Similarly, anything that is done will no doubt look better than what is there currently.