Monday, 30 November 2009

Hard Day's Night

John, Ringo, Paul and George, just for the record.

Back soon with a longer blog. Meanwhile, here's a little something which should amuse/give pause for thought to all those historians and researchers and archaeologists out there, oh how fallible we are, and thanks should go the wonders of Twitter for drawing this to my attention:

Beatles 3000

Ah yes.

History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's dam is the history we made today.

Henry Ford, Interview in Chicago Tribune, May 25th, 1916

Paul McCartney once winked and said "Hello"  to me, John Lennon stood on my hand... and I still have my well worn copy of Love Me Do, one of the first 45 rpm records I ever bought.  Surely soon, I will be recognised as the repository of so much wisdom and information I will be able to relate all these memories as a National Living Treasure on obscure telly progs watched only by geeks like me and readers of this tiny corner of cyberspace? Programme makers for the Open University, where are you?


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust - news

The heartfelt message written on the hoardings surrounding the proposed 'Caltongate' development site, in Edinburgh's Old Town,  part of the World Heritage Site, November 2008, for the UNESCO mission visit. The not-very-much -loved council offices overlook the site.

A  rapid blog post to bring the latest news in the campaign to save Edinburgh's Old Town World Heritage Site from inappropriate development and death by the promotion of tourism above a living city. This is moving on from the campaign to 'Save Our Old Town' from the 'Caltongate' development, which would have seen historic views blocked, a listed building demolished and inappropriate facade schemes for other listed and historic buildings.

Far more on the SOOT campaign here

Following the UNESCO mission visit last November, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee was critical of the Mountgrange scheme, and asked for changes.

Mountgrange went into administration earlier this year, and the future of the site and the buildings is currently uncertain.

Proposed building by Malcolm Fraser for the Caltongate development

A development trust, working with the City of Edinburgh Council and other interested parties, in partnership with a more sympathetic developer who might actually listen to what local residents want, and not carefully manipulate 'consultation' alongside a discredited PR company, may possibly be a way forward.

So in response to the jibes by one of Mountgrange's Caltongate architects, Malcolm Fraser, at a talk he gave recently in Edinburgh in his position as newly appointed Geddes Professorial Honorary Fellow at the Uni, repeated in the Scotsman, as I said here at the end of this blog:

another time another post. So here we go.

The setting up of an Old Town  Development Trust  has been a long time in the making, and is not a sudden reaction to what Malcolm Fraser had to say, in the report here:

Professor Fraser, about to eat his hat and words?

...I have been appointed, jointly by Edinburgh University and the Art College's new, combined Architecture Department, as their "Geddes Honorary Professorial Fellow". Trained as a biologist, and a friend of Charles Darwin, Edinburgh's Patrick Geddes is regarded as the father of town planning, and understood that cities had to evolve, not stagnate. He's a hero, and I am proud to receive this honour.... 

Indeed. And think what an opportunity for good it can be,  for

and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests - Patrick Geddes

Malcolm Fraser: I am keen to use the position to help the city debate the issues around how it should evolve...

And he outlines certain proposals he is keen to see during his tenure

Here's one: Caltongate and community advocacy: when Mountgrange – my clients and the developer of the Caltongate site – went belly-up, I approached the "Save Our Old Town" community group, that have so lambasted the proposals, to suggest that, with legal and organisational advice from "Local People Leading" and finance from the Nordic Enterprise Trust (a Norwegian Oil Trust, looking to invest in social projects), they could step forward to lead. They told me that they would prefer to stay in their bunker and wait to lambast the next developer. Edinburgh needs communities who will take more responsibility than simply insulting those that wish to invest, and I asked they reconsider their refusal.

Well, there seems to have been some (I'm being charitable) crossing of wires here, and possibly Mr Fraser was too busy in his own bunker on North Bridge to bother to read what another Edinburgh architect, James Simpson, had to say in response to Mr Fraser lobbing a grenade out previously in an opinion article in the Scotsman on April 1st. James Simpson's Scotsman response of April 4th detailed the discussions, consultations and investigations SOOT members were making , and had been making, regarding the setting up of a development trust:

At its meeting on Wednesday evening, SOOT initiated the establishment of a Canongate Community Development Trust which intends to open discussions with the City Council, with a view to bringing the existing buildings on the site back into use as soon as possible, temporarily landscaping the main part of the site and developing new proposals for the incremental development of the site for a mixture of uses, including more houses. This may be what the citizens and all those who care for Edinburgh as one of the great cities of the world - including, perhaps, Malcolm Fraser - actually want!

No doubt he will be very welcome as a member of the Old Town Trust, with his expertise and experience and contacts and offer to help with funding?  Meetings have already been held, and discussions have taken place over a considerable period, regarding this.

As James Simpson went on to say (text of the full response to Malcolm Fraser is here):

Have we forgotten the efforts of civilised architects like Sir Robert Matthew and Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith, of campaigners like Eleanor Robertson, Colin McWilliam and Oliver Barratt and of Desmond Hodges and Jim Johnson in the Old and New Towns respectively? These were the people who brought international recognition to Scotland’s capital, and who secured its place as one of the great cities of the world... Sound principles for development in historic cities were first laid down in the early 20thC by Sir Patrick Geddes, pioneer town planner and father of urban conservation. Geddes believed that cities were living organisms and, in his theory of “conservative surgery” argued that change in established settlements should, whenever possible, be small and incremental. Why was all this (re Caltongate) ignored?

     PRESS RELEASE Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust
     Immediate Release 24.11.09
    Will a New Community Trust Help Stop Edinburgh's Old Town from Dying?
    This is one of the questions that the newly established Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust , will be asking at its first public meeting this Thursday 26th November at Augustine United Church, George IV Bridge from 7.30pm - 9.30pm.
    Catriona Grant a local resident and director of the trust, said today "Last week in Venice the last remaining long term residents held a mock funeral to dramatise the flight of residents from their city's heart. We may be holding one here soon, if we do not take action now. Like the Venetians we need affordable and also non HMO sized family housing, which encourages people, especially families, to stay or move into the area. Like Venice, prices are steep in the historic centre, and many landlords demand much more money, by advertising over the Internet to short stay visitors than with long-term rentals to residents." She added "We however as residents then have to live with the consequence of these which are often large hen and stag parties. We have become unpaid concierges and are disturbed at all hours, it is only because of a loophole in the law that they are turning the Old Town into one big unregulated hotel. There are health and safety issues that no one has addressed yet, as well as the obvious almost daily loss of long term inhabitants, with the knock on effect of losing local shops and perhaps even the last remaining school, along with other vital community facilities which ensure a living neighbourhood."
    Sean Bradley, a director of the trust and Chair of the Grassmarket Residents' Association said today "A community's greatest asset is its residents. The Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust is an historic opportunity for the people of the Old Town to shape its future for the benefit of all - that means improving opportunities and the quality of life for everyone" Last year's community research, The Canongate Project, (see below) showed that more support and facilities are needed for the residential population if a ‘living city’ is to be maintained in the Old Town. The research also highlighted the need for affordable housing, family sized homes, a better mix of local shops, community facilities, play space, public toilets, safe and usable green public space, along with residents having a say in future developments in the Old Town.
    The meeting is to include discussion on the trust's possible projects and Ian Cooke, Director of The Development Trusts Association Scotland will give an introduction to the fast growing network of development trusts across Scotland, and highlight the real differences they are making to the communities in which they are based. Catriona ends “So we are urging those who live in the area and outwith to come along and become a member of the trust. Help shape the future projects and the role the trust can play in an area, which is becoming increasingly dominated by tourism and the night-time economy often at the expense of those who call it home”
    ***Notes for Editors***  Meeting Details - The Public Meeting of The newly formed Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust which also covers the Dumbiedykes area is on Thursday 26th November `09 at Augustine United Church at 41 George IV Bridge EH1 1EL 7.30pm-9.30pm
    Google News on Venice: 
    The Development Trust Association Scotland: 
    Party Flats Edinburgh: 
    The Canongate Project:
    (Probably the 'worst type' of 'heritage zealot' as described by Mr Fraser, and proud of it.)
      This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. Whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass: and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests - Patrick Geddes

      The words of Patrick Geddes, set in stone outside the entrance to Malcolm Fraser's Poetry Library, Edinburgh

    Sunday, 22 November 2009

    Andrew Doolan Award Winners 2009 - it's a dog's life

    Archial's small animal hospital

    Nem merely reports. Nem makes no comments. Nem leaves that to others. That way, she keeps out of trouble... ;-)

    Updated with further set of pictures 24th November*

    The winner of the Doolan Award 2009 was announced on Friday, and despite this being a larger architecture prize in financial terms,  the news hardly made the mega splash which the Stirling made, milked for all it was worth by the AJ.

    So - to make up for that, here in glorious wraparound technicolour,  is the worthy winner:

    Archial Archial Archial Archial

    Thanks to the RIAS :

    Small Animal Hospital Wins Doolan Award

    Saturday, November 21, 2009

    “Unique and Ingenious” New Veterinary Hospital Scoops UK’s Richest Architecture Prize

    The Small Animal Hospital by Archial Architects has been awarded the RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award 2009. From a shortlist of eleven projects the judges selected the Small Animal Hospital as a clear winner. Their citation for the building highlights the “unique and ingenious way it integrates a very substantial medical facility within the parkland setting of Glasgow University’s Garscube Estate”.

    The full citation reads:

    “The new Small Animal Hospital is located at the entrance to the grounds of Garscube Estate and forms part of the University of Glasgow’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. It provides state of the art services for animal owners and referring practitioners.

    Internally the building is simply organised both horizontally and vertically with a clear division of public and private hospital space. The working hospital, set behind the gabion wall, is focussed around a central treatment hub which acts as the heart of the building. There are clear and unrestricted views towards day-care, intensive care, operation suites, diagnostics and oncology. 

    The building is set unobtrusively into its setting, a massive grassed roof creating a new hillside within the landscape. The building’s great triumph is the unique and ingenious way it integrates a very substantial medical facility within the parkland setting of Glasgow University’s Garscube Estate. However, the rooftop ‘lantern’ and the boldly defined entrance ensure that this superb building declares its presence and scale. This is a highly complex work of architecture which sets new standards in the design of buildings for veterinary medicine.”

    The building was selected from a strong shortlist which represented a comprehensive range of building types, including two restoration projects and buildings in both urban and landscape settings.  

    This year’s judges were Professor Andrew MacMillan (Chair), David Dunbar PRIAS, Ian Gilzean ARIAS, Professor Kathryn Findlay ARIAS and Ian Ritchie CBE RIBA.

    The winner of the RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award receives a trophy designed by the glass artist Siobhan Healy and a cheque for £25,000. This makes it the richest architectural prize in the UK and one of the most significant awards in Europe. The award is generously supported by the late Andrew Doolan’s family and by the Scottish Government.

    Michael Russell MSP, Minister for Culture, commented; “I commend the quality of this year’s shortlist which shows that Scottish architecture today is a match for the best internationally. We are all operating in tough economic times and it is vitally important for Scottish businesses and Scottish places to be associated with quality. The RIAS Andrew Doolan Award celebrates quality in the profession and shows that architects and the places they design are central to shaping a Scotland in which we all can prosper.”

    The chair of the judging panel, Professor Andrew MacMillan, a close friend of the award’s founder, Andrew Doolan, said; “Andrew Doolan’s belief that this award would reflect the growing confidence of post devolution Scotland has been borne out by shortlists which get better and better year on year. While the Small Animal Hospital was the judge’s unanimous choice as winner a number of other buildings came very close. Scottish architecture is in remarkably good heart.”

    Ian Ritchie CBE, whose practice has offices in London and Paris, commented; “There were five projects on the shortlist which stand comparison with the best new architecture anywhere in Europe - the Beatson Institute New Cancer Research Facility, Glasgow by Reiach & Hall Architects, the Boathhouse at Balnearn, Loch Tay by McKenzie Strickland Associates, the Infirmary Street Baths, Edinburgh by Malcolm Fraser Architects,

    Malcolm Fraser, of Malcolm Fraser Architects, North Bridge, Embra, newly appointed Geddes Professorial Honorary Fellowy thingymajig at the Uni

    the New Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow by Reiach and Hall Architects and the Small Animal Hospital, Glasgow by Archial Architects. Scotland’s architects are currently producing work which is worthy of international recognition. Let’s hope the Doolan Awards are a major step in that direction.”

    David Dunbar, the President of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, noted; “Architects are having a very tough time at present. The recession has hit hard. This award demonstrates the fantastic quality that is being achieved by indigenous talent. We are working with the Government and our colleagues among Scotland’s client groups and the construction industry to ensure that we support and retain this tremendous asset. The quality of Scotland’s future built environment will depend upon it.”

    *An excellent set of pictures and more reportage here:

    Sharing the news headline, and basking therefore in the glory, if not the champagne, for a whole weekend @NemesisRepublic was also on the home page of Urban Realm in fabulous Twittercolour,  as the last Tweet from UR was to me and so it remained in view all weekend (under the link to Peter Wilson's brilliantly fun Weekly Wrap). I am honoured. I suppose I should do a screen capture... no doubt by the time anyone reads this my 15 minutes of fame will have vanished, but I am savouring the moment along with a glass of Ardbeg.

    Peter Wilson on another awards ceremony, which is recommended reading:

    The shortlist announced earlier this month (thanks to Urban Realm):

    Judges for the RIAS Best Building in Scotland Award have announced their selection of short listed contenders for 2009. Chaired by Andy MacMillan the jurors chose eleven projects ranging from the Roses Design Awards Grand Prix winner, Stobhill Hospital and the Beatson Institute Cancer Research Facility, both from Reiach and Hall.

    BD's "Carbuncle Cup" candidate Hotel Missoni (below) by Alan Murray architects is also in contention

    Carbuncle finalist Hotel Missoni (pics by Nem) click to enlarge

    along with:

    Boathhouse at Balnearn, Loch Tay: McKenzie Strickland Associates

    Infirmary Street Baths, Edinburgh: Malcolm Fraser Architects

    Niddrie Mill and St Francis Joint Primary School, EdinburghElder and Cannon Architects

    North Glasgow College, Glasgow: RMJM Scotland Ltd

    Small Animal Hospital, Glasgow: Archial Architects

    Social Housing at Moore Street, Glasgow: Richard Murphy Architects; Elder and  Cannon Architects, Page \ Park Architects and JM Architects;

    The Printworks, Glasgow: Cameron Webster Architects

    Trongate 103, Glasgow: Elder & Cannon Architects

    For further pictures of the winner see:

    (and in the cause of fairness, and in order that Bad British Architecture doesn't have a coronary

    there's a comment under which reads:

    This really shouldn't credited to Archial seeing as it is the work of Glasgow's Davis Duncan architects... this building was well advanced on site over a year before Archial swallowed the practice whole... but I digress, congratulations to all involved...

    although another later comment states:

    For clarity, Davis Duncan Architects was purchased by the SMC Group (now Archial) in September 2006.)

    Pictures of all buildings on the shortlist, and AJ comments,  can be found here:


    Friday, 20 November 2009

    National Trust properties devastated by floods (updated 23rd Nov)

    Pics: Top Wordsworth House, Cockermouth,  front, Nov 23rd,  courtesy National Trust  (see pictures below also)

    Bottom  Cockermouth, main street, Cumbria, Friday 20th courtesy of the BBC

    Update Monday

    I had a talk with the NT regional office today, naturally all are simply 'firefighting' at the moment, but later no doubt volunteers will be appreciated to help with the clear up. The @nationaltrust Twitterfeed is posting #cumbriaupdates.  All are grateful for all the concern and interest shown in this difficult time.

    Today this video was posted, showing how badly affected Fell Foot tearoom and park is, on the shore of Windermere:

    and BBC news is being updated with film and information of the region, including Cockermouth

    Very distressing.

    Another blog with pictures and on the spot news from the weekend

    Update Sunday
    National Trust Twitter message: @nationaltrust Message from Cumbrian team: "Thank you. We have received so much support and it makes a big difference to know that people care."

    Latest news from the BBC at mid-day

    Sunday 6pm via Twitter
    @nationaltrust It has finally stopped raining in Cumbria and by tomorrow eve the teams will be able to assess the full impact of the wettest day on record

    Pictures today from Fell Foot tea room ( a former boathouse) thanks to the Cumbria NT team:

    Update Saturday latest report and vid from the Guardian

    Latest from the Whitehaven News, including pictures:

    Post 20th November
    I was mid blog updating about Gazprom and St Petersburg WHS (coming soon...) when the National Trust Twitter feed posted news closer to home of the damage caused by the floods in the north-west. Cockermouth has been particularly badly hit. I have re-tweeted as much as I can. If you can, please RT this message.

    Terrible news from Workington where a policeman has tragically lost his life when a bridge was been swept away, and of course there is devastation to homes and businesses. No doubt stock in fields will have suffered very badly also. 

    Deepest sympathy goes to all affected, especially the family of PC Barker.

    As far as this blog is concerned, which is mostly about buildings, so I'll not dwell on the appalling human cost which I know all readers will appreciate, the grim  news at the moment is that Wordsworth House in Cockermouth has been badly hit, which isn't a surprise as the river runs closely behind.  Hilltop (Beatrix Potter) at Sawrey has suffered,  as has the Beatrix Potter Gallery at Hawkshead, Fell Foot tea room is under water, and roads are flooded around the region. Sizergh is hit but not the buildings.

    NT Twitter: @nationaltrust
    #cumbriaupdate Wordsworth House.Severe flooding to basement, reception, shop and garden. House sandbagged. Flooding now reached ground floor


    At Cockermouth the staff have sandbagged the main building and have worked  hard to get the furniture upstairs.  But the damage to the ground level buildings etc is bad.  It's not only basements. The garden is badly flooded; a great deal of time has recently been spent restoring and replanting. After foot and mouth, the area was sorely in need of new ways to attract custom and business, and now this - it will take a very long time to recover.

    The NT tells me via Twitter that volunteers may well be welcome; but currently the Ennerdale office is hit by power cuts. The answering machine is working and I have left a message. As many roads are flooded, travel may be difficult of course, but if anyone can get safely to flood hit properties, call

    01946 816940

    I'll update when I can. See side column, Twittering on.

    UPDATE  18.00

    I have no doubt there are other flood hit historic buildings, and Dumfries and Galloway reported to be in danger too, but at the moment, that's the news I have.  Sorry it's a bit rough and ready, will post more when I have it.

    For excellent pictures pre-flood see

    Wordsworth House:

    19.00 @cumbriadotcom   #FF


    Tuesday, 17 November 2009

    Third Gropius building demolition in Chicago

    No time to blog properly, please read previous post:

    @gropiuschicago via Twitter has just alerted the world to the third demolition, the Serum Centre

    Horrific. Bloody horrific.

    Chicago Tribune:

    The ongoing cultural vandalism, carried out with the approval of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, makes a mockery of the State of Illinois' hearing on Dec. 4 to consider the Reese campus--or what's left of it--for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.


    Monday, 16 November 2009

    Dreamland gets the cash! Woooo!

    Pic: copyright Nick Laister, Save Dreamland Campaign

    No time for a long blog, and the whole story would take some recounting, but just to say that, after all the 'roller coaster ride' (groan) of the long running campaign ('heritage battle'?) to try to save Dreamland, Margate, it was announced at one minute past midnight that the government has awarded 3.7 million pounds to the Dreamland Trust, to begin the work of bringing the historic Dreamland Amusement Park back to life, and hopefully hugely help the revival of Margate, Kent. Like so many historic seaside towns, it is sorely in need of regeneration.  Many thought the closure and building a 'mixed use development' and flats on the site not a great idea...  Some you win...

    This means that the Grade II listed Scenic Railway woodie roller coaster (1920), so badly and sadly damaged in an arson attack, can be repaired, the Grade II* Dreamland cinema and organ can be begun to be brought back into productive use, and a start can be made on the plans for the Heritage Amusement Park, incorporating the rescued important historic rides from places such as Southport Pleasureland (grrrr... but another blog another day...) and Rhyl.

    Earlier this year the Dreamland Trust was awarded a stage one Heritage Lottery grant, to work up towards a major funding application, and the Princes Regeneration Trust has also been involved, so hopefully, in the not too distant future, a full Lottery application can be made for many more millions. The jigsaw puzzle of 'match funding'  is often a hard one to negotiate, but with this large sum of Sea Change grant aid, that's one huge chunk of jigsaw completed.

    I'm a long time committed supporter of the Save Dreamland Campaign, and this morning is the best of news for me, and no doubt so many others.

    Nick Laister and the team - thank you for all the hard work, over so long and through so many dark days, dreams can come true!

    Thanks too to all at SAVE Britain's Heritage, which has supported this campaign throughout, recognising that 'heritage' is wide and encompasses so much, not simply 'grand' buildings but the quirky too, and maybe the Scenic can be taken off the national Buildings at Risk Register before too long!  It featured as a 'scandal' in last year's Buildings at Risk book, Cherish or Perish,  also.

    That fire:

    Pathe footage, pre-war:

    For my past blogs on this a quick search of the site (see search box in right hand column, under blog archive) Dreamland will bring the posts.

    BBC news report:

    I shamelessly steal Nick's words from the news page of the Save Dreamland Campaign today:

    so much to read on that site!

    The latest news from the Save Dreamland Campaign:

    Monday, 16 November 2009

    Dreamland Margate awarded £3.7m by UK Government

    In the most important landmark in the six-year campaign to save Dreamland Margate, the Government has today announced that it has awarded £3.7m to the project. This is the largest grant in the 2009 Sea Change programme, funded by DCMS (Department for Culture Media and Sport), which is designed to invigorate England’s seaside towns through investment in culture and heritage.

    It will allow the Grade II-listed Scenic Railway roller coaster, built in 1920 and the oldest roller coaster in the UK, to be restored to its former glory. As well as securing the long-term future of one of the best-loved seaside structures in the country, the funding will allow the creation of the world’s first amusement park exclusively comprised of thrilling historic rides.

    CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) Chief Executive Richard Simmons, who has led the project on behalf of the Government, commenting on the seven coastal resorts that will be receiving a grant, said:

    “These seven projects all demonstrate how culture can be a catalyst to recapture the flair that these places enjoyed in their heyday. I especially like the plan to regenerate Dreamland in Margate, and showcase the country’s oldest rollercoaster, a listed scenic railway. It is ambitious projects like this, creating new national attractions, that can rekindle the English love affair with our seaside.”

    Dreamland Margate has been awarded the largest grant in the Government's 2009 Sea Change programme, one of only two large grants issued this year.

    The Dreamland Margate project is being led by The Dreamland Trust, a not-for-profit company born out of the Save Dreamland Campaign. The £3.7m grant will help to create an exciting theme park from the past on the Dreamland site, giving visitors the chance to enjoy spectacular historic amusement park rides. Many of these have been rescued by The Dreamland Trust from amusement parks across the UK over the past decade and many are the last surviving examples of their type.

    The rides will be built around the centrepiece of the park, the Scenic Railway, the oldest surviving roller coaster in the UK and the fourth oldest in the world. Restoration work will also be carried out on the Grade II*-listed Dreamland cinema building, creating a major new visitor attraction of international significance.

    Nick Laister, who set up the campaign to save Dreamland and is now chair of The Dreamland Trust, said: "This is fantastic news and is yet another very positive step to delivering this world's first visitor attraction. We are very pleased that CABE and English Heritage share our view, and that of the people of Margate, that this proposal has the ability to create an outstanding, 21st-century attraction at Margate, capitalising on the resort's unique heritage in a way that will make a huge contribution to the regeneration of the town.

    “The Scenic Railway roller coaster has not operated since 2006 and was badly damaged by fire following an arson attack last year. This grant should now secure the future of this remarkable structure and allow work to start on rebuilding it next year, along with all the other rides that we have rescued.

    “On behalf of the Dreamland Trust, I would like to thank our partners in the bid, and in particular Derek Harding of the Margate Renewal Partnership, Peter Beck and Toby Hunter of Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company and Nick Dermott of Thanet District Council. We simply could not have achieved this without them. I very much look forward to working with them over the coming months as we reinstate Dreamland at the heart of Margate."

    Pic: c Nick Laister

    Design for the Heritage Amusement Park, Dreamland c Dreamland Trust

    More about the future on the new website:


    Sunday, 15 November 2009

    From Russia with love... Part 2: Samara

    Location of Samara

    On Wednesday my blog post was about the latest MAPS/SAVE Europe's Heritage publication and more besides:

    with a free download, although I do recommend the book, available from

    Today a brief blog to draw attention to another new publication from Russia, which will have its launch event on November 18th:

    Samara: Endangered City on the Volga : world-launch in London



    World-launch of the new MAPS/SAVE Europe's Heritage, Samara: Endangered City on the Volga, will take place on 18th November at Pushkin House, London.

    This report is the work of a panel of Russian and international experts, and is the first of its kind to tackle the problem of the loss of architectural heritage in the Russian provinces.

    The city stands on the banks of the Volga, some 400 miles south east of Moscow. It is home to a wealth of styles from wooden houses with finely carved window frames to, neo-classical, art nouveau, constructivist, industrial and post-war buildings. It is a major Russian city, closed to the West under Communism when it was called Kuibyshev. It was also the city to which Moscow evacuated during the Second World War.

    Since the fall of Communism, corruption in Samara has led to the uncontrolled demolition of huge areas of the city, including its delicate system of courtyards. There is massive new construction and planners and architects have been murdered, such is the greed for land and property. Approximately one third of the old city has been destroyed. The report was initiated due to the immediate threat hanging over a Factory Canteen of the Constructivist era, which has a ground plan in the form of a hammer and sickle.

    On 18th November, thanks to the generous support of Pushkin House, editor of the new report, architect Vitaly Stadnikov, is coming to London to give a lecture about Samara and present the report.

    Moscow-based architect Stadnikov is from Samara and author of a book on its 20th Century architecture and an expert on provincial Soviet Constructivism. The report is the work of Russian and foreign experts, drawing on examples of sustainable development from all over the world to point to a way forward for Samara.

    The report is supported by Do.Co.Mo.Mo. International and dedicated to the memory of Catherine Cooke, scholar and activist for the preservation of Soviet constructivism.

    The report will appeal to all those interested in Russia, adventurous travellers and those who wish to know more about Russia’s architecture of all periods.

    Copies of the report will be available for purchase for Ј15.

    176 pp, fully illustrated, bilingual.

    All lectures begin at 7.30 and end at approximately 8.30

    Tickets Ј7, Ј5 for Friends of Pushkin House and students


    +44 (0)20 7269 9770

    or email to

    Pay by cash, credit card or cheque in advance or on the night.

    The Main Entrance is located on Bloomsbury Way. Nearest tube stations Holborn, Tottenham Court Road and Russell Square. There is a secure public car park in Bloomsbury Square.

    The Partners:

    MAPS was set up in May 2004 by a group of international journalists and architects who work in close cooperation with preservationists, architects and historians within Russia and abroad to raise awareness about the present destruction of Moscow’s historic buildings. MAPS aims to convince the Moscow Government, developers and architects that the unchecked demolition of Moscow’s heritage is not in the city's long-term interest. MAPS monitors specific buildings in Moscow. In July 2009 MAPS published a report: Moscow Heritage at Crisis Point, second, updated edition, а co-publication with SAVE Europe's Heritage.

    SAVE Europe’s Heritage was founded in 1995 as the sister organization of SAVE Britain’s Heritage. The latter has existed for 30 years and is one of the most effective preservation groups in Britain. Founded by writer and journalist Marcus Binney, SAVE works through the press, writing reports on groups of threatened buildings or threatened areas. SAVE Europe’s Heritage has written two reports on buildings in France and Hungary and a report against the construction of a motorway across the Veneto in Italy. In October 2009 they published a report on abandoned country estates in Silesia, Eastern Poland. This is the third time they have collaborated with MAPS on a Russian report.

    For press queries please, please apply to:

    Clementine Cecil
     07968 003 595

    William Palin
     +44 20 7253 3500

    Vitaly Stadnikov

    More about Samara from Wiki:,_Russia

    Hope some people can make it.


    Thursday, 12 November 2009

    The things they say: the Royal Commonwealth Pool, Edinburgh (updated)*

    Pic: Edinburgh Architectural Association , with apologies if it's copyright*

    Update 28th December: an article from the Herald. Dreadful headline, decent text:

    and useful to note another listing last week.

    In at the deep end! *Updated Nov 14th,

    to include FREE GIFT, see bottom of the post.

     No 1 in an occasional series of things 'they' say which make me realise why I could never give up alcohol in large quantities, because if I did I might be driven to murder. As it is, it numbs the pain of having to live in the same world as an elected representative who can spout these words, without, apparently, feeling the slightest bit an idiot:
    (continued below)

    UPDATE 14th November

    (No 2 in the series may be sooner than I had intended, I feel the need for  a rant an informed critique re the letters in today's Guardian in response to Jonathan Glancey's article re World Heritage, see blog from Wednesday: 

    and today's blog from

    Andrew Holmes, it's just as well you have departed as Director Of City Planning, Edinburgh, but your ignorance explains so much...    maybe another blog to explain just how wrong you are...   In the meanwhile, Argyle House might occupy your time for a moment or two, peeps, link at the bottom of the blog - marmite building if ever there was one. Pictures can be found by a google, or from the same site as the Commonwealth Pool pics:

    Now  - a horrible lumpen blot  which should not have been built  and which blocks significant views of the castle, the sooner it goes the better, or a carefully crafted building which speaks of its time (conservation b*ll*ckspeak, for the uninitiated in these matters, and oh yes, mea culpa, I spout it  frequently) which should have been listed (it was refused) and should be re-used? Geddes Professorial Honorary Fellow at the Uni,  Embra architect sorry leading Scottish architect, as the press always has it, Malcolm Fraser:

    thinks the latter. I know many don't. But then I know others who do agree with him.  Interesting one to think about.

    An architect friend of mine (yes yes I do have some!!!), who I hope doesn't mind me quoting, said: seems - largely - to have been thought about in isolation from its context, except the appropriate darkness of the materials, and the quite nice west elevation with the bits of "turd in the plaza" school of public sculpture over the entrances, now very much period pieces...

    He wasn't too complimentary about the rest of it.

    The comments box is empty, do post your thoughts...)

    Anyhow - as you were, and back to the blog post of Thursday:

    No 1 in an occasional series of things 'they' say which make me realise why I could never give up alcohol in large quantities, because if I did I might be driven to murder. As it is, it numbs the pain of having to live in the same world as an elected representative who can spout these words, without, apparently, feeling the slightest bit an idiot:

    Ian McKee (Lothians) (SNP):

    My other gripe about Historic Scotland concerns some of the decisions that it takes to preserve existing buildings. I have argued about how our built heritage must be preserved, but that surely does not mean that every building that is listed must be preserved, as if in aspic, for the rest of time. I cite the example of the Royal Commonwealth pool, which is just across Holyrood Park from the Parliament. The building has been judged by Historic Scotland to be of extreme architectural importance, and has been given a grade 1 listing. However, it is now unfit for purpose as a swimming pool for international events. More important, it cannot be made suitable. Today, international competition requires 10 swimming lanes, and it is physically impossible to widen the building to accommodate more than eight

    Now that an upgrade is required, the cost is much higher, and the time for which the pool must be closed is much longer, simply because of the criteria that must be met given Historic Scotland's listing. The building might be of some architectural interest, but I doubt very much that it is high on the lists of things to see for visitors to our capital. Surely it would have been to the greater public good to raze the building to the ground and replace it, at less cost and in less time, with a pool that is fit for purpose for the inhabitants of Scotland in the 21st century.

    Official Report 11 November 2009
    Scottish Parliament
    Debate on Scotland's Historic Environment


    *Royal Commonwealth Pool
    Dalkeith Road


    Architect: Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners

    The Royal Commonwealth Pool is an exemplar of late modern movement design. Designed by John Richards of Robert Mathew Johnson Marshall & Partners, it was built in 1967 for the 1970 Commonwealth Games and consists of an Olympic -length pool with diving and learning pools. The external elevations are strongly horizontal, in three diminishing tiers with recessed glazing behind deep fascias, set into and onto the landscape. A bright steel chimney provides a contrasting vertical emphasis. Functionally, the building not only works well, but also provides attractive and interesting internal spaces.

    Some very good pictures etc here:
    including this one, click on thumbnails to enlarge.

                                                      Pic  c Adrian Welch

    As a post-script to this, there is to be a national conference on post-war architecture in Scotland,  November

    Is there a place for modern Scottish architecture in our towns and cities?

    Press release from Historic Scotland

    5 November 2009

    Do you have a view on how modern architecture fits into our towns and cities?

    Ahead of a conference looking at how we value post war architecture, Historic Scotland is looking for people to contribute their opinions and comments to be addressed by panel of experts.

    The conference, Scotland: Building For the Future, will take place at the Bonar Hall at the University of Dundee on Tuesday 24 November 2009. It will be opened by Michael Russell, the Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution.

    Broadcaster Pauline McLean, host of the conference, said: “There's one subject in my brief as BBC Scotland's arts correspondent which is guaranteed to stir up a storm - and that's historic buildings. And when those are post war buildings - with architects still around to argue their motivation - only one thing is guaranteed, opinions are going to be divided. “I'm delighted to be asked to chair this event which I hope will allow for open and robust debate on all aspects of the subject. “

    The day will be chaired by Ms McLean and, in addition to speakers from Historic Scotland, the programme includes Raymond Young of Architecture and Design Scotland; Neil Baxter of RIAS; David Page of Page and Park Architects; Miles Glendinning of Edinburgh College of Art and Janet McBain of the National Library of Scotland.

    Dr Deborah Mays, Historic Scotland’s Head of Listing and organiser of the conference said: “For many people modern architecture is a subject that can be like marmite – you either love it or hate it. The conference will bring people from across the spectrum to see how we value modern architecture as part of the Scottish landscape.

    “We want to hear from anyone with an interest to submit questions for our experts to consider on the day at  It can be a contentious subject and I am very much looking forward to putting some challenging opinions to our panel.”

    In addition, Historic Scotland has recently launched a publication on post-war Scottish architecture, which is here as a download:

    A recent post-war listing - BHS, Princes Street, Edinburgh, RMJM. And yes I love it, especially the lettering.

    One quote from the Edinburgh Evening News, when an article was printed last year suggesting this might be listed:

    Leading architect Malcolm Fraser, whose projects include the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile, said not all modernist buildings deserved a bad name.

            Scottish Storytelling Centre

    "It's popular for people to look at the 1960s and think everything was rubbish, but we need to understand there are also some good buildings from that time," he said. "If you look along Princes Street, 75 to 90 per cent of the 1960s buildings are dreadful and need to go. But in Scotland we always seem to get rid of the best ones first.

    "The 60s caused such damage to Princes Street that a reaction that says 'tear it all down' is understandable. But the materials used in the building were better, and it was done with much more finesse and care than the other 1960s additions to the street.

    And a comment under that:

    Ian Ross,Edinburgh

    The BHS store is like a boil on one's rear end, and is as ugly a building as the St James Centre. They must need their eyes tested. There is NO architectural beauty there at all.

    In the eye of the beholder etc etc...

    How about:

     Jason L. McKenzie, Moredun

    More tiresome bleating about the possibility that something in this damn city built after the 1300s MIGHT actually have some merit in eyes other than those of the bleaters. You might want to live in an ossified theme park. I'm not so keen. Keeping a few good 60s buildings would be a start; getting some striking new architecture into what should be a living developing city would also be good. Or we can just go back to all throwing our crap out of a tenement window, if you prefer.

    Indeed. I think this one isn't going to be easily resolved, and Historic Scotland will have a way to go to win all hearts and minds.


    Post-script number 2 which explains a little more: Malcolm Fraser in the Scotsman:

    Oh Mr Fraser...  maybe another day another blog...

    Anyhow, to add that required air of gravitas to the new Geddes Honorary Professory Fellowy person, and all others who aspire to be so, here's a little something to consider:

    Click to enlarge, save, print on thin card, cut out, and indeed, wa-lah!  


    Wednesday, 11 November 2009

    From Russia, with love... Part 1

    Click to enlarge - further details and PDF download of the publication see bottom of blog post

    OK, nothing much I can say about this as what can I add?  This postcard from Moscow is  brought to you via MAPS, the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society.

    About MAPS

    The Moscow Architecture Preservation Society (MAPS) was set up in May 2004 following the demolition of two major Moscow landmarks: the Moskva Hotel, Voyentorg department store and the fire in the Manezh.

    The initiative group of MAPS consists of young architects, historians, heritage managers and journalists from different countries. We work in close cooperation with preservationists, architects and historians within Russia and abroad to raise awareness about the present destruction of the city's historical buildings. Through these contacts, we are working to give Russian preservationists and Muscovites a greater international voice. We invite international experts to advise on more sustainable approaches to the historic built environment.

    MAPS believes that every effort should be made to preserve certain buildings. Through such work MAPS hopes to convince the Moscow Government, developers and architects that the unchecked demolition of old Moscow is not in the city’s long-term interest.

    Queries: Kevin O'Flynn, 8916 173 2536

    Edmund Harris, 8916 524 5722

    Clementine Cecil, +447968003595

    Marina Khrustaleva, 8903 612 4686


    Greetings from Moscow Postcard - ARKHNADZOR

    Happy is he who has the courage to defend what he loves

    Yuri Bocharov

    Letter to President D. A. Medvedev of the Russian Federation

    On the restoration of the rights of federal authorities and liquidation of the Mayor’s Office monopoly on the development of Russia’s capital

    Dear Mr. President!

    This letter is being sent in connection with the preparation of your annual State of the Federation address to the Federal Assembly. The main goal of this letter is to draw attention to the need of the Russian government to take control over the development of the federal capital. All capitals in the world develop under the control of presidents or heads of government. The exception to that rule has been Moscow for the last fifteen years.

    A unified General Plan of development for Moscow and Moscow Oblast through 2010 was passed in 1992. After the Supreme Soviet RSFSR passed (1993) the law “On the status of the capital of the Russian Federation,” the Moscow government rejected the strategy of a holistic development of the capital region and started elaborating its own General Plan to 2020, the realization of which has led to serious negative phenomena. The law did not establish the powers of the federal authorities in the capital. This reflected the political confrontation of the legislative and executive branches in that period, which ended with the shelling of the White House. The Moscow City Duma was too hasty in approving the inventory of municipal property (approximately 7,000 major sites) and turned over the property to be managed by the Mayor’s Office. The land and the lion’s share of real estate that had belonged to the USSR government, Union republics, and the COMECON ended up in the monopoly management of the Moscow Mayor’s Office.

    The centrifugal development of the city was replaced by a centripetal one, focused on maximal profit from building on the most liquid lands in the central zone around the Kremlin. The Soviet slogan “Proletarians of the world unite around Moscow” was changed to a new one: “Investors of the world get rich in Moscow.” Close to 9 percent of the country’s population was concentrated in the capital, i.e., on 0.0006 percent of the country’s territory. While the national population is reduced by 0.9 million people annually, the capital’s population is growing by 150,000-180,000 people a year. No federal capital in the world has such population density. This evinces the fact that the zone of settlement for Russians has been compressed.

    Moscow’s territorial resources are exhausted, but the population density is 5-8 times higher than in London, Paris, Washington and other capitals of democratic states. Nothing can be built in Moscow without taking down residential housing, sports complexes, industrial enterprises, or destroying green areas. The General Plan to 2020 was not coordinated with the Russian government. It calls for increasing housing by 25 percent and razing totally acceptable 5-story houses with an area of 12 million sq meters. (The 5-story houses are usually replaced by 20-25-story buildings, which doubles or triples the population density, significantly decreases living conditions, and blocks traffic.) The draft General Plan to 2025 calls for increasing housing by 60 percent and for that purpose razing 7,500 residential buildings with a total area of 22 million sq m; that means the forced removal of more than one million residents. In order to get land for construction, the Mayor’s Office in the last fifteen years has razed around 500 buildings that determine the image of Moscow as a historical city.

    No other world capital has been subjected to such destruction. If Russia’s cities follow the example of the capital and start tearing down their 5- 9- and 12-story residential buildings, 18 – 20 million people will have to be resettled and two cities the size of Moscow built. In order to put up commercial buildings, the Mayor’s Office is using public areas and sanitation conservation zones of enterprises. In violation of the Presidential Decree of 24.08.1995, No. 873 “On the reconstruction of the Frunze Central Airport,” an elite residential region was created around the zone of the former runway. The conservation zone around the Kremlin is being built up uncontrollably. Moscow’s population density is outrageously over the limit, since local norms (MGSN-01-99) permit the construction of residential housing with a density of 1.5-2 thousand people per hectare of residential area, which is three times the limit in other capitals. The increase in population density and stories of buildings are leading to stress, the increase in mental illness and suicides. According to data in Foreign Policy Magazine, Moscow is in the top five capitals with the highest crime rates. The volume of construction rubbish is 5 million tons annually. In the international ratings of the Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Moscow is in 171th place in quality of life. And in 200th place for diseases of the endocrine system and oncology.

    The law “On the status of cities of federal significance” has not been elaborated over 15 years. The proposals from the Federal Assembly and the Administrative Affairs Office of the President for a preserve zone for a new Parliamentary Center, sent to the Moscow Administration on 19.11.1998 (No UDI-3986) have yet to be realized. Some parcels of land (from 4 to 100 hectares), proposed previously for the Parliamentary Center, are now being built up by investors close to the Mayor’s Office. A number of Representatives of Federation subjects are still housed in apartments, and eight Representatives do not even have addresses in the capital. At the same time, the Moscow Administration managed to find territory for the Moscow City Duma and the Mayor’s Office and even ran an international competition for the buildings.

    While the General Plan to 2020 gave the area of federal land in Moscow as 14 percent of all the territories (13,954.7 hectares, Moscow Land Committee Report, 1999), the project of the new General Plan to 2025 (vol. 4, p. 42) lists that the share of territory containing objects fulfilling capital functions is only 0.3 percent of the total territory of the city. Gosstroi RF drew the attention of the General Procurator’s Office (No. NM-1567 on 27.03.02, and others) to the illegal transfer of federal lands and objects to the property of a Federation subject, but without result.

    There is no plan to solve the transportation issues of the capital. Close to 80 percent of Moscow roads have exhausted their flow capacity. On work days around 650 traffic jams form in the capital’s streets, holding up more than 400,000 cars. Up to 500,000 cars commute to the capital from the region, and the traffic jams stretch for 10-18 km. The annual time lost on commuting is estimated at 600 billion rubles. But the Mayor’s Office does not care about transportation problems, it wants to obtain the greatest investments. Therefore they are building hyper-expensive and practically useless two-level car tunnels under the metropolitan lines at a depth of 30-40 m! The land reserved by the General Plan for 1971 for four high-speed highways (“chords,” or spans) have been sold off or rented by the Mayor’s Office for investment construction. In cities in Australia, the US, and Canada roads and parking lots take up 30-35 percent of a city’s total area, in Western Europe, it is 20-25 percent, in Asia, 10-12 percent, and in Moscow, it is 8 percent. Yet Moscow is continuing to increase the density and number of stories of buildings, and is not taking into account the decision of the Supreme Court of the RF on limiting the operator of Moscow’s norms for insolation.

    The area of the forest and park conservation belt is absolutely inadequate (the ratio of Moscow’s area and the belt is 1:1.6. For comparison, in Minsk, it is 1:11, in Tokyo, 1:4, in New York, 1:15). There are frequent incidents of building on the shores of water reservoirs and other unique territories. By 2015 the forest and park conservation belt of Moscow will be practically gone, since 75-80 percent is already reserved for construction by investors from Moscow and Moscow oblast. For the last 15 years the two subjects of the Federation have been struggling over land, airports, and resort zones. A letter from the oblast administration No 2-11863 dated 01.08.2008 lists 22 territories, illegally intended by the Moscow General Plan to be included in the capital’s territory. The remains of the forest and park belt are under additional threat in connection with the Moscow government’s resolution No 313-PP on the construction of six major garbage incinerators, whose environmental damage is enormous.

    Mr. President! When you were First Deputy Prime Minister, you ordered the Ministry of Regional Development to participate in the elaboration of the capital’s General Plan in the development of capital functions on 03.02.2006, and then on 02.04.2007 (No DM-P9-1880) charged that ministry with responsibility for the issue. However, the Ministry of Regional Development has not written a Technical Task and has not sent the draft General Plan for approval of the State Non-Ministerial Analysis of Glavgosekspertiza of Russia. The administration of the Ministry of Regional Development has been studying the draft plan for 14 months. This, when the rule states that if the Moscow City Duma does not get a conclusion in under 3 months, the project is considered coordinated, with all the concomitant consequences! (par. 3 of the Resolution on coordination of schemas for territorial planning for subjects of the RF, dated 24.03.2007, No 178).

    The General Plan lacks a section of security for zones with government objects, foreign embassies, and Representatives of the RF. Security has become an important issue after the murder of the Governor of Magadan Oblast at the entrance of his Representative office on Novy Arbat, 19. The materials in part 4 of the General Plan to 2025 have no indices on the territorial development of capital functions. The Ministry of Regional Development sent the materials to agencies of the executive branch, forgetting about legislative and judicial branches.

    The Moscow public and the expert community protest against the General Plan to 2025. The project was studied by the Commission on Regional Development of the Public Chamber, the nongovernmental movements Moskovsky Sovet, Zhilishchnaya Solidarnost, the Committee for Defense of Citizens’ Rights, and the Ecological Union. They note that the General Plan does not reflect the interests of the residents of the capital but the commercial interests of the Mayor’s Office and the investors close to it.
    In view of the danger of losing control over the capital region with a population of around 16 million people and deteriorating sanitary, ecological, and transport situations, it is reasonable to:

    1. Propose to the Government of the Russian Federation to develop and send to the Federal Assembly laws “On the status of the capital of Russia” and “On the status of cities of federal significance,” which will give the leading role to the Federal Government in developing the political and historical centers of the capital.

    2. Preserve through legislation a large federal zone in Moscow that corresponds to the structure of power in a presidential republic, taking control of the Conservation Zone of the Kremlin complex and create a large reserve territory for the new Parliamentary Center of the Russian Federation.

    3. Charge the Ministry of Regional Development to elaborate an Ad Hoc Federal Program “Development of a United Engineering and Transportation Infrastructure for the Moscow Region to 2025” and assure it coordinates legislative and normative support bearing in mind the legal documentation of the Russian Federation, Moscow, and Moscow Oblast.

    4. Charge the Ministry of Justice to check whether the resolution of the government of Moscow on elaborating the General Plan and other city-building documentation related to the capital’s development are in accordance with federal legislation.

    Biographical information:
    Bocharov Yuri Petrovich is a major Russian urbanism scholar, a member of the “world laboratory” of Urban and Transportation Planning.

    His circle of scholarly interests over the years included theory and history of architecture, town building and land use; the history and methodology of urban and transportation planning; the theory of settlement; the evaluation of social, demographic, and economic factors in planning large cities; zoning of industrial regions and complexes.

    In his youth, he got three higher degrees in architecture, construction, and transportation.

    He is a Doctor of Architecture, an academician of the Russian Academy of Architecture and Construction Sciences (RAASN), a professor at the Institute of Communal Economy and Construction, chief scientist at the Central Scientific Research Institute of Town Building, a member of numerous foreign academies of architecture and urbanism, an advisor of the Social-Economic Foundation (New York, USA), a member of the international board of Town Planning Review (Liverpool, UK). He is the author of general plans for many major cities in the USSR; from the 1970s to the present he consults on the elaboration of master plans for cities and urbanized territories in various countries.

    He was head of the Institute of the Theory of Architecture and was president of the All-Union Society of Urbanists.

    He is author and co-author of about 360 works, some published aboard (Great Britain, US, Germany, Switzerland, Chile, and Japan, among others)
    His works include monographs that were very popular:
    “Organization of Pedestrian Traffic and Transport in Microregions” (1960);
    “Planning Structure of the Modern City” (1972);
    “The City and Production” (1980);
    “Architecture of the USSR: 1917-87” (1987);
    “Production and Spatial Organization of Towns” (1988);
    “History of Land Use in Russia” (in English, New York, 1995).


    A  plug here for the latest version of MAPS and SAVE Europe's Heritage joint publication, Moscow Heritage at Crisis Point, revised, updated and expanded edition of the original 2007 publication, of which more information on the authors and the publication can be found at this past blog:

    Here, for the impecunious, is a free download as a PDF, although I do recommend the book. Warning - large file:

    There's also included a chapter on St Petersburg.

    Press reaction:


    Hooray for Jonathan Glancey!

    Caltongate, Edinburgh; one of the proposed buildings (Malcolm Fraser Architects)

    From today's Guardian. I apologise for any breach of copyright Mr Rusbridger, but I do buy a paper copy daily, and I was a very early Re-Tweeter of the Trafigura story, so maybe you owe me, just this once?

    In April I wrote about Bath's status as a world heritage site, which was then in doubt. Unesco, the international guardian of these sites, had sent a team of inspectors to England's most celebrated Georgian city in November last year, prompted by controversial developments such as its neo-Georgian SouthGate shopping mall, and a scheme for 2,200 flats (and not much else) on the edge of town. Was Bath about to be dropped from Unesco's list of 890 sites considered to be of outstanding international importance, among them Stonehenge, Venice and the Great Barrier Reef?

    Until this year, Unesco had dropped just one of its sites, the Oryx sanctuary in Oman, which had failed to look after the rare antelopes and the stunning wilderness in its care. But in June, Dresden was taken off the list after the Saxon capital went ahead with a brutal motorway bridge across the River Elbe and its beautiful baroque city centre. I thought Bath might follow suit. While many people are keen on shops, and many residents feel that the shopping mall (which opened last week) is better than the 1960s one it replaced, it seemed the city had been careless of its heritage, unable to find ways of building intelligently. Still, according to the Bath Chronicle, 30,000 people, more than a third of the city's population, turned up to last week's opening.

    When Unesco's inspectors visited last year, they had been asked by concerned locals to look in particular at the proposed residential development, Western Riverside, which looked like a very big, modern tail about to wag a small Georgian dog. Published this summer, Unesco's report avoided discussion of SouthGate, as if it were best to let one gormless project go while pointing out what might be done to safeguard the city's heritage for the future. Construction has not yet begun on Western Riverside, but it has planning permission.

    The report emphasised the need for "social facilities" – schools, clinics, pubs, cinemas, bus stations – to go with the flats, and recommended an architectural competition for the second and third phases of the enormous development. It underlined the importance of Bath's setting, the landscape that surrounds it – under threat by proposed suburban extensions of the city. But the report was at best a tepid broadside, one that stopped well short of stripping the city of its heritage status.

    Should anyone in Bath care what Unesco says? I think so: its world heritage committee was set up in 1972 by members of the UN, as a means of ensuring that the world's most significant sites were properly cared for by member governments (now numbering 186). Each year, its elected 21-member committee reviews its list of sites, advised by a staff based in Paris (led since 2000 by Venetian architect and planner Francesco Bandarin).

    Caroline Kay, chief executive of the Bath Preservation trust, tells me the Unesco report was "much less punchy than we'd hoped. The unresolved problem here is that developments are meant to be addressed by national government, but the Department for Culture Media and Sport, and the Department for Homes and Communities, insist these are issues of purely local interest." Kay hopes to encourage Unesco to take another look at Bath, and is disappointed the report didn't address the shopping centre. "It's in the world heritage site, and the architecture and planning are hardly world class. From the centre of SouthGate, you can't see out to views beyond – a feature of Bath over the centuries. It misses the spirit of Bath. We could have done so much better, and Unesco should have rapped us over the knuckles."

    Dresden proves that Unesco has teeth; the city's loss of status may well affect tourist revenue and inward investment. And this year, a Unesco report on Edinburgh (its Old and New Towns have heritage status), has prompted the collapse of two new developments: a 17-storey hotel, and Caltongate, a complex incorporating a hotel, conference centre, 200 flats and offices, which would have entailed the demolition of listed buildings. True, the recession has played a part, too: the developer for Caltongate, Mountgrange Capital, has gone into receivership. But if the development has been knocked on the head, Unesco has played its part.

    Now its toughest fight, and one that it is unlikely to win, is over the future of St Petersburg, a city arguably even more beautiful than Bath. Here, the Edinburgh-based architects RMJM have won permission to build the vertiginous Gazprom Tower, or Okhta Centre, as it has since been renamed. Rising from the site of a historic Swedish fort, it will set a precedent for local Flash Gordon-style redevelopment. But planning permission has been granted by Valentina Matviyenko, governor of St Petersburg and a Putin appointee. The tower, and other similar developments, look unstoppable.

    So Unesco has its work cut out, but the point of Unesco, as indeed with other conservation bodies in Britain, is not to stop all development, nor to attempt to pickle our cities in heritage aspic, but to make us stop, think and try to build the best we can. In the end, short-term expediency and big-buck developments make few of us happy. As for Bath, Unesco will be watching to see if the city can strike the right balance between its heritage, its need for housing and the modern lust for shopping.

    For past posts on all of these, UNESCO and Bath, Caltongate, Haymarket, Gazprom,  Dresden, and indeed Jonathan Glancey, please use the search facility, right hand column.

    Parts of the above I think are not totally as informed as they could be, and I note Mr G failed to mention the Bath Dyson debacle, which maybe one day I will put together the whole, unvarnished reality rather than the Sir James version, but in the main, fair comment. And thank goodness someone understands what UNESCO actually is.

    Back asap.