The Prince and Persia

Monday 02 Aug 2010

Iranian Embassy set to escape tainted siege history with controversial £100m buiding

News of Prince Charles’ deft hand in halting the controversial Chelsea Barracks project earlier this year has spread fast it seems, as wealthy South Kensington locals have appealed for his aid in preventing plans for a new Iranian Embassy in the centre of London being approved. Residents in the privileged urban area were outraged when the plans were released as they believe they have been mistreated in the development of their surroundings.

It is alleged that the council withheld images of the scheme (which has now been submitted for planning) from its website at the request of the police’s diplomatic protection group, who were concerned about security issues. This is not the only cause of contention however, as it appears the real source of dispute is the nature of the Embassy’s design. Chairman of the National Trust, Sir Simon Jenkins, commented: “It is inappropriate to locate a strident, modern building in such a sensitive conservation area, next to a magnificent listed church.”

Designed by Venice-based Iranian architect Dr. Armin Hohsen Daneshgar of Daneshgar Architects, the Iranian embassy will be a six-storey marble and stone structure sporting irregular windows and sharp, clean lines. Perched on the corner of Manson Place and Queensgate Mews the jutting corner of the building will overhang a smaller sub-structure – a contemporary art gallery and cultural centre. Dr. Daneshgar, lead architect on the project, explained: “I believe the problem is not with the design of the building but more probably with the function of it being used as an Embassy. If we copy the same form of existing buildings at the Queen’s Gate, the problem will continue to exist.”

Whilst such sharp-angled futuristic structures are in no sense rare in London – see Jean Nouvel’s Serpentine Pavilion for an extreme take on this trend – in the affluent area of South Kensington, traditionalist values remain a key focus in architectural design. With Prince Charles’ successful hand in the jettisoning of the Chelsea Barracks redevelopment project, the outraged residents have reportedly penned a letter begging for his assistance with their architectural predicament. The Prince of Wales royal is said to be awaiting the letter before commenting on the matter. Sirus Taghan, an Iranian architect based in London, told WAN: "I think it is typical of the authorities for not employing a UK based firm to design a more relevant scheme. They could have designed a more controversial scheme by relating it to the embassy's origin. It is not a suitable design for an embassy and this particular location."

Several hundred yards from the proposed site stands the current Iranian Embassy which was famously stormed in 1980 by the ‘Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan’ – a group of six Iranian Arab separatists – who demanded the release of ninety-one of their comrades, held in jail in Iran. With Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s permission, the SAS carried out a surprise military operation on the Embassy after one of twenty-six hostages held inside the building was killed. Five of the six terrorists were killed in the attack; the survivor was released from jail in 2008 and now resides under governmental protection in South London.

To read WAN Chairman Richard Coleman's response to the proposed design, click here.

Sian Disson
News Editor

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Civic Buildings

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