Make destroys the National Theatre (2)

I have been thinking about this building since seeing that it had been given planning permission last night. If built, it will be one of the most prominent buildings in London. Yet, one wonders, is it the result of a public competition ? The developers are Mitsubishi Estates. It’s designer, Ken Shuttleworth, is called ‘Ken the Pen’ and no doubt stands to make a vast amount of money from this necropolitan development, but it will totally dwarf the Houses of Parliament, as well as the National Theatre. What were the planners thinking ? A monster monument to the Age of Boris Johnson, totally soul-less like the new Broadgate which is also designed by Make.

It is now up to Michael Gove to call it in and reject it. And create new planning laws at the same time.


Make destroys the National Theatre (1)

I am mildly shocked by this approval of a massive new development which will dwarf the National Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall and will totally dominate the bend in the river from all directions, sucking energy out of everything in the vicinity, including Tate Modern. As in all new building schemes, the decision is made by the planning committee of a single London borough, whereas this is a development which will affect London as a whole – views from Parliament Hill, views from the terrace of the Palace of Westminster. It will pulverise the National Theatre by imitating it, but four times as high. The decision was made by seven people: six in favour, one against. They were no doubt influenced by the enormous number of jobs created. But the number of jobs is a signal of the Brobdingnagian scale of this development.

Has any idea of planning gone down the chute?


Courtauld Institute Galleries

I went on a tour of the newly refurbished Courtauld Institute Galleries with Stephen Witherford of Witherford Watson Mann, architects to the project, which is in two phases – the second phase renovating the Institute still to come.

The building is an odd and complex jigsaw puzzle, as designed by William Chambers a) because it had to accommodate the terrace houses on the Strand and b) because it was designed for three institutions – the Royal Academy, the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries, each of which was separate from one another. It’s an ingenious renovation project, recovering some of the character of the original gallery spaces, adding new galleries where possible, particularly on the top floor, and opening up the basement, which I hadn’t seen on my previous visit, all of it done with intelligent ingenuity.


Postwar Modern

We went to the exhibition at the Barbican on postwar painting, which is in many ways a revelation:  half familiar because so many of the artists have remained well known – Francis Bacon, John Bratby, Eduardo Paolozzi, Prunella Clough;  half deeply unfamiliar because so much of the work is little seen and not well known.   I thought the organisation of the exhibition by topic worked really well, like the section on Cruising which gets one to view the paintings of Bacon and Hockney purely in terms of their sexuality and the following section, Surface/Vessel which combines the work of Lucie Rie and William Scott, obvious as a pairing when one sees it, but not necessarily seen before.   No catalogue available as yet.

Lucie Rie, Bottle, Dolomite Glaze:-


The Burrell Collection (2)

Following Edwin Heathcote’s recent review of the Burrell Collection, I was pleased to find another review online today, also admirable in that it treats the building not just architecturally, but as a place to show off Burrell’s collection to best effect. I am sad now that I saw the new building before the works of art had been fully installed.



I am intrigued by how much government business is now conducted on WhatsApp, particularly everything involving bribery and peculation, which seems increasingly widespread. Why do they use it ? Obviously because it’s not traceable and so they are not accountable. I remember a while ago being encouraged to use text messages rather than email because it would not be traceable. But are there not strict rules round this ? And why are they not being followed ? It’s not just going to be bad for the writing of history, but it is already bad because it looks as if it is being done very deliberately to evade scrutiny and mask corruption.


The War in Ukraine (4)

I have only just seen the letter published yesterday by the former defence attache in the Moscow Embassy. It rings true. Downing Street was still accepting donations from oligarchs in January and we have a Lord of Siberia sitting in the House of Lords. This might inhibit the government’s air of self-congratulation about how much it has helped Ukraine, but it doesn’t seem to because so many of their practices are themselves so obviously Putinesque.


Sir Simon Milton

At the height of the debates about public statuary in London and who should be torn down, I happened to come across a large statue in a new public square just behind the new Tower Theatre of someone I didn’t recognise:-

Who was it ? I looked at the inscription. The answer was Sir Simon Milton, Deputy Mayor of London, 2008 to 2011. It rang a bell with me because I remembered another recent portrait bust on a public building in Piccadilly, in which the background of City Hall is made to look – quite convincingly – like angel’s wings. It’s by a stone carver called Alan Micklethwaite and by the standards of modern stone carving is, in my view, rather successful. It is also of Sir Simon Milton:-

So, I looked him up. I hadn’t really registered what a key figure he had been in Westminster politics and later at City Hall, but by chance I had come across Ian Greer in the 1990s who ran the public relations firm that Milton worked for then. It got caught up in the cash-for-questions scandal and acted for Mohammed Al Fayed. So, I started trying to figure out why he has been so widely commemorated. The answer seemed to be that he was a hero of London property developers because he had been so incredibly liberal in giving them permission for new property developments and they were going to miss him now that he was no longer at the helm. Boris Johnson was elected Mayor on a platform of reducing the freedoms which Ken Livingstone had introduced to London’s planning. But, as seems to be a pattern, once in office, he did the opposite. New buildings boomed all over the place. I have not sought to discover how much hospitality Milton accepted from property developers whilst he was at City Hall, but I remembered that his partner, Robert Davis, who I liked, stood down from chairing the planning committee at Westminster when it was discovered that they had had Christmas lunch at the Ritz paid for by a property developer. It was always said that Ian Greer introduced the culture of brown envelopes into British politics and it has made me wonder exactly what is the relationship between London property development, local planning committees and lunches at the Ritz.

Anyway, I regard it as intriguing that Sir Simon Milton should be the most commemorated person of our times and have written about him in this month’s edition of The Critic, now available online (see below):-


The Burrell Collection (1)

I’m so glad that Edwin Heathcote has written such a carefully considered and balanced review of the new Burrell Collection (see attached, but only available to subscribers).

For those who have not been following this issue, one of the original architects of the Burrell Collection, John Meunier, has been fighting an unexpectedly successful campaign against its recent radical renovation by John McAslan, claiming that the renovation has changed the way that visitors experience the building, which is indeed true. Originally, the entrance was through an ecclesiastical portico and down a long entrance enfilade which apparently got progressively silted up with commercial clutter. The combination meant that fewer and fewer people visited the wonderful collection, down from 1 million when the building opened to 150,000 when it closed. So, McAslan has opened up a much bigger and more public entrance to encourage people in from the surrounding Pollok Park. This may be a change in architectural priorities, but it reflects a change in the museum’s priorities. In the middle of the building was a lecture theatre which was apparently little used. McAslan has transformed it into a place of public congregation, a bit like the central space of the Design Museum. Yes, you can say it is now a bit of a cliché, but again it is a change from something which didn’t work to something which can and should be a public benefit.

My own feeling on visiting the new Burrell was that McAslan has very much respected the character of the original – the quality of spaces, the use of materials, and has restored a building which had become dilapidated into something which is really remarkable, as it was when it first opened.

You can read my assessment in the April issue of The Critic which will probably be out in hard copy next week, although not online till mid-April. As you can tell, I am a bit protective of the renovation because Glasgow Life have spent £68 million on restoring the building and I feel they should be congratulated, without too much carping.



Now that I have recovered from tramping round Cambridge yesterday, I am posting some miscellaneous pictures of it on a beautiful clear spring day – maybe a bit too picture postcard, but pretty beautiful nonetheless:-