Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company, has unveiled its new masterplan for its redevelopment of the Chelsea Barracks project in London. The original plans for the site were widely criticised the Prince of Wales took exception to the £3bn glass and steel multi-storey plan designed by Lord Rogers and wrote to the Qatari Prime Minister, urging him to reconsider the project’s design. The Prince also commissioned Quinlan Terry, his favourite architect, to design an alternative and more conservative design. Kit Malthouse, the deputy Mayor of London, described the original scheme as “monstrous” and “nothing short of urban vandalism.”
The Rogers design for the 12.8-acre site was for modernist steel and glass towers in rows and proved very unpopular with local residents. The new design includes a ‘significant mix’ of houses, and the barracks’ Garrison Chapel will be retained (it’s use is yet to be defined). The site will be filled with a variety of houses, blocks of flats and shops, dotted with public squares and a large public park. There are also plans to build a boutique hotel, a community sports facility and a medical centre. In a stark change from the glass-and-steel towers favoured by Rogers, the tallest building on display in this undetailed plan doesn’t exceed the height of the former Garrison Chapel.
The church, designed by George Morgan in 1859, is the only remaining Garrison Church in Central London, and along with the railings in Chelsea Bridge Road, is all that remains of the original Victorian barracks after they were rebuilt in 1960.
Now whilst my own reaction is that the original Rogers scheme was plainly an attempt to cram too much housing and profit onto the site, I am dismayed that an opportunity – in fact not any opportunity, but probably the only opportunity this millennium to make a large scale development in central London, is going to be allowed to go to waste.
Last year the Royal Hospital replaced it’s 1960s Infirmary (very like the hideous Chelsea Barracks) with a Quinlan Terry design. Now it’s a very nice building, and no doubt looks just like the original Christopher Wren designed Royal Hospital, whilst introducing modern hospital functionality but ……. what was wrong with Christopher Wren’s building?
Why do we feel a need to put a modern copy next to it, to detract from it’s beauty? Let’s live in our own age, and introduce our own style. Let us glory in Wren’s brilliance, but design and build our own. The opportunity was lost with the Infirmary, but now London has an opportunity to start the 3rd Millenium with a 12.8 acre development that will be a statement about Britain for 1000 years. Can we do better than the 17th century? Bob the builder can!
I was born in Pimlico and have seen the bomb sites built on, and developed, I saw the houses demolished by ball and chain to make way for Glastonbury House, I have seen what will destroy and what will develop. As a child I used to march along Buckingham Palace Road to school alongside the troops from Chelsea Barracks who were marching to change the guard at Buckingham Palace. I knew which regiment they were from their busbies (now called a bearskin) and we marched in step until I got to school. I am steeped in British tradition and very proud of every moment of our past. However our past is not our future.
The Rogers scheme was a disgrace to a fine and talented firm of architects, no doubt constrained by profit, but excuses apart their scheme deserved to die. But Pimlico deserves better than a Wren pastiche. Qatari Diar – I beg you give us something novel, unique, a quality development to be proud of. Look at what Thomas Cubitt achieved – please don’t copy, but learn. Give us a magnificent development that people will flock to, not just to live in, but to eat drink, be entertained and admire. You have the best 12.8 acres in Pimlico, and that means the best 12.8 acres in the world. Surely you can do better than this? It’s the least we deserve.