The Twentieth Century Society is dismayed by the above applications for the Commonwealth Institute site and deeply disappointed that OMA have not risen to the challenge of combining innovative new architecture and sensitive refurbishment.
The applications have been lodged with no end-user in place for the building. The documentation states that the brief will allow for “the Design Museum or some comparable institution” to occupy the drastically altered tent building. All the other significant areas would be destroyed. This is not a satisfactory, conservation-led approach for a grade II* listed site of international importance that is also a registered park and garden in a conservation area.
The application has isolated what the developers see as the key historic asset at the expense of all the other elements that make the Commonwealth Institute site so historically significant. This underlines their misunderstanding of the way in which all the elements of the site contribute to its importance and shows they have paid scant regard to the advice they themselves have sought from EH and the c20 Society
The landscaping, the ancillary block, the flagpoles, walkway and interior void are all either lost or significantly altered in this application – this is not an acceptable approach. In specifying the Design Museum as a potential end-user, the developers have tried to justify huge changes to the interior spaces as necessary for finding an appropriate end user. However if the museum does require this drastic alteration, then the C20 perceive them as unsuitable occupants.
The Society is also keen to stress its disappointment in the light of the pre-application discussion process. The Society has been engaged with the developers for 18 months regarding these proposals and in that time has repeatedly underlined the above concerns. It is regrettable that our efforts to engage with the developers have not led to a conservation-led application.
To underline the above points the C20 Society, along with The World Monuments Fund, SAVE, and The Edwardes Square, Scarsdale and Abingdon Association commissioned a conservation assessment for the site from the Architectural History Practice (AHP). This document, in the absence of any adequate conservation statement provided by the developers, represents the most recent assessment of the site and concludes “any proposals for development should start from the premise that the whole of the present building and its setting is significant and the utmost care should be taken to preserve as much as possible of that significance” -. I have included a copy of this for your information.