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News catch-up: Swindon leisure centre saved from demolition

Words:
Simon Aldous

Heritage does well this week as listing looks set to save Oasis’ stately leisure dome from demolition and Aberdeen Art Gallery wins RIAS Doolan Prize. Meanwhile Kingspan's F1 sponsorship deal causes backlash from Grenfell survivors and Michael Gove, and City councillors challenge approved AHMM tower

In use, tropical style – inside Oasis Swindon.
In use, tropical style – inside Oasis Swindon. Credit: Neil Robinson, Save Oasis Swindon Campaign

The distinctive glazed dome of the Oasis Leisure Centre in Swindon has been grade II listed, almost certainly saving it from demolition.

The Oasis, designed by Gillison Barnet & Partners,  opened in 1975, part of a wave of domed leisure centres built at the time, many designed by the same practice. According to Liam Gallagher, formerly of 90s Britpoppers Oasis, the building was the inspiration for his band’s name. 

The centre closed in 2020 during the first lockdown, but did not reopen when restrictions were lifted. Instead its owner, Seven Capital, announced its intention to demolish the dome and replace it with a new cylindrical structure.

By that time it was the only such leisure centre left standing. Architectural historian Otto Saumarez Smith argued that its demolition would have amounted to the destruction of an entire typology.

Among those celebrating is RIBA Journal columnist Will Wiles who eulogised about the building earlier this year, describing ‘the visceral excitement’ of childhood visits to this ‘stately pleasuredome’ and fondly recalling ‘the bright colours, foliage, boulders and iconography of palms, sunshine and frolicking dolphins’.

Inevitably, not everyone is so delighted. Swindon Council had its heart set on replacing it with a new ‘fit-for-purpose facility’. Council leader David Renard said the Oasis’s listing would make its regeneration ‘a lot more difficult, not to mention considerably more expensive’.

Seven Capital went even further saying that preservation of the dome made it ‘highly questionable whether the Oasis will ever reopen as a leisure centre again’.

The Twentieth Century Society, which submitted the listing application for the centre, has given particular credit to local campaign group Save Swindon Oasis for ‘tirelessly’ petitioning to have the amenity reopened ‘and its architectural significance recognised’.

And it says it will ‘closely monitor future plans for the centre, making the case for both elements to be sensitively and sustainably modernised’.

 

Formula One team blasted for sponsorship deal with Grenfell cladding firm

Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has been criticised for racing in a car sponsored by Kingspan, one of the firms that made the combustible cladding blamed for spreading the Grenfell Tower fire.

The cladding manufacturer has entered into a deal with Hamilton's Mercedes-AMG Petronas team. As a result the Kingspan logo was displayed on the car he drove in last weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Last year the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard evidence that Kingspan had marketed products as safe for tall buildings when they knew they posed fire risks, and rigged tests of rival products to suggest that they were less safe.

Grenfell survivors and bereaved relatives have called the sponsorship deal ‘disgusting’ and called for the Mercedes team to drop the sponsorship.

Hamilton himself has previously supported the Grenfell community, posting a #justiceforgrenfell message on Instagram on the fire’s third anniversary.

Nabil Choucair, who lost six members of his family in the fire, told the Guardian: ‘I am very disappointed that someone who says he supports us, wants to advertise Kingspan, who contributed to the loss of innocent lives.’

Referencing the deal on the eve of Sunday’s race, Hamilton said: ‘It was news to me when I heard the things that have happened this week and I was very aware and watching closely all the families affected by what happened there.’

Among those decrying the deal was housing secretary Michael Gove, who called it ‘truly shocking’ and suggested that parliament might extend government powers to restrict logos on cars.

Councillors seek to derail planning for second tower in the City
 
Following the rejection of Foster + Partners’ Tulip, yet another high-rise planned for the City of London is in trouble, this time designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris.
 
The City’s planning committee has already approved the practice’s 24-storey office tower, which is planned for the Houndsditch area and would replace several existing buildings.
 
But now the approval is being challenged by councillors, who are taking the decision to the Court of Common Council, the City’s primary decision-making body.
 
Such a move is highly unusual. The last time the court considered a planning application was in 1987, when James Stirling’s postmodern building at No 1 Poultry was the project under consideration.
 
This time the appeal to the court has been instigated by councillor Graeme Harrower, one of six members of the planning committee who voted against the scheme. His appeal has been backed by 27 other councillors of the 100 who make up the City.
 
Residents of the nearby Middlesex Street Estate had previously argued that the tower would block sunlight from their homes as well as casting shade over an outdoor play area.
 
Harrower argues that AHMM’s scheme contravenes the City’s policies on tall buildings, massing, daylight and sustainability. In particular, he argues that the proposed tower would sit outside the City Cluster area, the zone earmarked for tall buildings.
 
But his arguments go to the crux of the City’s entire planning policy, which broadly speaking has been to approve pretty much everything.
 
He says the City has no need for more office space and that constantly adding new buildings creates a ‘flight to quality’ whereby the City is left with ‘many older, functional, but unwanted properties’.
 
AHMM co-founder and RIBA president Simon Allford has defended the scheme’s sustainability credentials against those who argue that retrofitting the existing buildings would be the more environmentally friendly approach.
 
In a practice statement, AHMM said the buildings it was replacing were ‘low quality’ and that creating a long-lasting building that was ‘more generous, flexible and permanent, with sustainability at its heart’ was preferable to the previous trend of ‘build mean, replace often’.  
 
The court will discuss the planning decision this Thursday. 
 
  • Aberdeen Art Gallery, reworked by Hoskins Architects, has been awarded the The Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award
    Aberdeen Art Gallery, reworked by Hoskins Architects, has been awarded the The Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award Credit: Dapple photography
  • Aberdeen Art Gallery first opened in 1885 but has undergone an extensive £34.6 million transformation
    Aberdeen Art Gallery first opened in 1885 but has undergone an extensive £34.6 million transformation Credit: Dapple photography
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Aberdeen Art Gallery wins Scotland’s top architecture prize

Scotland’s best new building of 2021 is an old building. The Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award has gone to Aberdeen Art Gallery, which first opened in 1885 but has undergone an extensive £34.6 million transformation by Hoskins Architects.

It has been a long haul for the practice, which won the job in 2009, although work didn’t start until 2015.

Restoration of the Category A-listed museum included investment in the existing building fabric as well as increasing the number of permanent galleries from 11 to 19.

The RIAS, which runs the award, has made particular mention of the gallery’s ‘dramatic’ copper-clad roof, which is ‘among a series of striking contemporary interventions that have revitalised the gallery and its relationship with the city’. It added that the project demonstrated ‘how contemporary architecture, historic building conservation and environmental responsibility can go hand in hand’.

The prize is named after Scottish architect, property developer and hotelier Andrew Doolan, who launched and sponsored the prize, but died in 2004 aged 53. 

Among the other buildings shortlisted was Carmody Groarke’s Hill House Box, a vast translucent structure used to enclose Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1902 Hill House while it undergoes restoration. 

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