Not so Crystal clear

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Controversy surrounds Chelsea planning approval

Ken Shuttleworth’s MAKE architects won planning permission on Thursday night for what is being touted by the planning committee as the most controversial modern design approval since that of Daniel Libeskind's Spiral for the Victoria and Albert Museum. To be situated in the quiet end of Knightsbridge, the Mansour Namaki commission, dubbed the Brompton Crystal, will be neighbour to Libeskind's project in Chelsea.

The controversy stems not only from the project's design for nine luxury flats over shops, but it's location in a conservation area. Replacing a 1960’s modern box amid Georgian and Victoria terraces, the building has a contextual masonry base as a setting for a facetted and triangulated upper section. The crystal approach enables a bigger building to appear less bulky by the carving of facets and setting back of the surfaces. Together the two elements are supposed to provide a sense both of gravity and of levity.

Objectors called for a more traditional approach and were against the extensive use of glass, whereas the Council’s design champion, Councillor Daniel Moylan, thought the design so good that it was a risk worth taking. Despite planning officers leaving the committee members with an open verdict, they advised that the Brompton Crystal could be a listed building of the future. The decision appears to be an early test case of modern versus traditional hot on the heels of the HRH Prince of Wales’s plea for more traditional architecture. More surprising was that it took place in a London authority most known for its conservative approach to architecture.

MAKE Architects worked together with Richard Coleman who advised the project on historic townscape matters. The pair previously worked together with Norman Foster on conceiving London's most famous modern tower, the Gherkin.

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