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News catch-up: Death Rattle – Diller Scofidio + Renfro concert hall faces axe

Simon Aldous

Two major schemes at risk as the City of London Centre for Music looks set to lose its concert hall and BDP's rehousing of MPs during Palace of Westminster refurbishment is halted. In another blow to the industry, if not the environment, Taunton rejects a Maggie's centre to save a playing field

Centre for Music London.
Centre for Music London. Credit: Diller Scofidio and Renfro

If the post-Covid economic recovery is meant to be being led by construction projects, then it’s more than a little worrying to see the apparent cancellation of two major projects in the last week: BDP’s £500 million scheme to rehouse MPs (see below) and Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s £288 million Centre for Music in the City of London.

The latter was the unconfirmed rumour flying around after conductor Simon Rattle announced he was quitting as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) to spend more time with his family – the euphemism notoriously used by politicians anxious to deflect from the actual reasons they might be leaving a job.

The promise of a new concert hall had been one of the major enticements for Rattle when he took the job. He had previously decried the absence of a high-quality concert venue in London, describing the LSO’s present home at the Barbican as only serviceable, while being particularly scathing of the Royal Festival Hall – though that venue will always have the advantage of its attractive, riverfront site compared with the Centre of Music’s location in the middle of a busy traffic roundabout.

Following the announcement of Rattle’s departure, the City of London would only say that it still planned to redevelop the site, and that discussions about the venue were ‘ongoing’. The £288 million scheme was expected to be largely financed through private donations, with four storeys of offices included to help raise funds. Last March, the City of London allocated nearly £2 million to the scheme to allow work to continue through to a planning application, including developing its funding model. 

This raises the prospect that Diller Scofidio+ Renfro’s competition-winning Centre for Music will not now include a concert hall. What next? An airport that doesn’t have any planes flying out of it? (admittedly such a scheme could avoid a lot of controversies).

The acclaimed New York practice won the project in 2017, and is likely to continue working on it whether or not it includes the concert hall; though it could strongly be argued that this was not what it signed up to. And would the design competition have attracted such a high calibre of entrants (Fosters, Frank Gehry and Amanda Levete among them) without the concert hall element?     

Could it be that this exposed shortfalls in the scheme’s viability – particularly with uncertainty over the post-Covid future of offices as effective cash cows?

Rattle will now leave the LSO in 2023 to become chief conductor for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich – 623km from Berlin where his family lives. 


The Houses of Parliament in the early days in 1858, while it was still being built, before the repair bill ramped up.
The Houses of Parliament in the early days in 1858, while it was still being built, before the repair bill ramped up. Credit: Richard Westmacott, RIBA Pix

£500 million BDP Parliament scheme cancelled 

Meanwhile, it has emerged that BDP’s £500 million scheme to rehouse MPs and staff while the Palace of Westminster is restored was halted at the end of last year.

The Northern Estate programme would have upgraded a number of nearby listed buildings to provide temporary offices.

A strategic review of the plans concluded that ‘innovative new approaches’ could achieve the same aims for a lower cost.

There was already doubt over the future of AHMM’s proposed £1.6 billion conversion of Grade II* listed Richmond House to create a temporary House of Commons chamber.

Perhaps the most important consideration with all of this is how soon the £4 billion refurbishment of Parliament can begin. Currently, its poor state of repair is costing more than £100 million a year in maintenance.

‘The Houses of Parliament are falling apart faster than they can be fixed,’ said a report by the project’s delivery authority and the Restoration and Renewal Sponsor Body.

Last May, the sponsor body said it was re-examining its options for a decant, seeing if ways of working developed during the pandemic might be the basis of alternative options. At the time, both houses of parliament were largely operating remotely via Teams and Zoom.


Maggie’s out, says Taunton council

On a rather smaller scale, the building of a Maggie’s cancer care centre in Taunton has been blocked by Somerset West & Taunton Council, which voted overwhelmingly against leasing out the land on which it was to be built.

Maggie’s centres are generally regarded as positive additions to their locations, combining a socially valuable purpose with exemplary design by some of the world’s top architects. But in this case, the resulting loss of green space was enough to negate this.

The centre had been designed by Stirling Prize-winning practice Alison Brooks Architects and was set to be built on part of Galmington Playing Field, less than 100m from Musgrove Park Hospital’s oncology ward, whose patients it would have supported.

Campaign group Friends of Galmington Playing Fields campaigned against the development, arguing that the loss of green space was unacceptable and had ‘implications for parks across the district and nationally’.

Indeed, the Liberal Democrats took control of the council in 2019, having pledged to block the centre in their election campaign.

Maggie’s has said it is disappointed by the decision but is working with the council and the local NHS trust to find an alternative location for the centre.


Alberni, Vancouver, Canada designed by Heatherwick Studio.
Alberni, Vancouver, Canada designed by Heatherwick Studio. Credit: Picture Plane for Heatherwick Studio.

Heatherwick plans high rise homes for Vancouver

Heatherwick Studio has presented designs for two striking high-rise residential buildings in Vancouver, Canada.

Visualisations show the first five floors gradually tapering, then widening again on the next few floors, to create a curving, tree-like form. All storeys feature a zig-zag arrangement of terraces and balconies.

The towers are 34 and 32 storeys high, containing a total of 400 homes as well as a public atrium with shops and restaurants.

Championing the scheme’s height, the practice remarked  that is was ‘difficult to have a positive emotional connection with a huge, flat building.’ One wonders how it feels about the forthcoming Google HQ building in London’s King’s Cross – an 11-storey, 300m-long ground scraper designed by BIG and, oh, Heatherwick Studio.

Less positive for the practice is the news that its Vessel scheme in New York has had to temporarily close following the death of a man who jumped from the 46m-tall structure.

It is the third suicide from the building in two years, with another occurring less than a month earlier.

The Vessel is a spiralling network of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs, providing expansive views of New York and the Hudson River and one of the major tourist attractions at Hudson Yards on the west side of Manhattan.

According to the New York Times, concerns had long been raised about the ineffectiveness of its safety barriers. It quoted Audrey Wachs, who in 2016 wrote in the Architect’s Newspaper of her concern that ‘the railings stay just above waist height all the way up to the structure’s top, but when you build high, folks will jump’.

The Hudson Yards developer, Related Companies, now says it will consult with suicide-prevention experts about how to prevent further deaths.


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