Transcript of 'Today' Radio 4 - Saturday 1Oth March 2001
17 minutes to 8. Earlier this week we reported on what's known as 'trophy architecture', that's what happens when approval is given to plans for a building and it's then completed by other architects or developers with markedly different results from those expected. We had an awful lot of mail on the subject including several from south London where there's great opposition to plans for a leisure centre in a park once occupied by the Crystal Palace. The huge glass building was taken down after the great 1851 exhibition and reassembled at Sydenham in south London. 1936 it was destroyed by a mysterious fire. Andrew Hoskin reports.
original radio broadcast: "the wind is blowing huge clouds of great acrid smoke right across and sparks .."
November 30, 1936. BBC commentator, R. Murray, describes the fire which destroyed the Crystal Palace"...a matter of 200 yards and there's glass all over the grass and those strange shrouded females that inhabit the parks are being peppered with flying sparks and flying glass..."
This is up to one of the terraces. It's the terrace which in fact had huge fountains on it. They have long gone.
Ken Lewington showed me round the park where the Palace once stood.
You can see the National Sports Centre, the stadium on our right and the sports centre building on the left and they are in the spots where Paxton's great fountains stood and apparently they rivalled those of Versailles.
Nothing remains now of the Crystal Palace with its 4,000 tons of iron and 400 tons of glass. Only the battered statues and ramparts leading up to the ridge in the park where it stood. The site itself is occupied by trees and brambles - and security guards who have been patrolling the area since a spot of bother with eco-warriors. By law any building erected here has to be in keeping with the Palace and the vision of it's architect, Joseph Paxton. The local council, Bromley, which owns the Crystal Palace Park has given the go-ahead to a leisure centre complete with 20 cinema screens, 950 parking spaces and 14 liquor licences. Mr Lewington is Vice-Chair of the Crystal Palace Campaign group which opposes the development.
It's just the sort of thing which we feel will not regenerate the area. It's all done in the name of 'regeneration'. They're two a penny these things and to put it on a Grade II* listed park is really beyond the pale and something which we never thought would happen to this really wonderful Park.
Over the years the plans have been hit by local opposition and court hearings. The complex was designed by Ian Ritchie, one of the country's leading architects. He spent two and a half years working on the scheme until last summer when he says the developers asked him to cut the cost by 25%. Speaking publicly for the first time about it, he said he walked away.
They came to see us and they put new terms down to us to reduce the cost quite drastically, to change the method of procuring the building, that's how it's built, from a 'construction management fixed price' route to a 'design and build' route, together with trying to accelerate quickly, having already stopped for six months, suddenly having a very short time to resolve certain design issues and to get on site within a few months. At the time they were changing the rules of, if you like, engagement, so we declined to accept any further instructions from the client.
Thirty thousand people have signed a petition of opposition. Mayor, Ken Livingstone, claimed it was an example of a scheme which had been designed by a top architect and then down-graded to save money. Bromley Council declined to field a spokesman to answer the criticisms but issued a statement insisting that the intention was to build Ian Ritchie's design with different architects and that the replacement of architects was a matter for the developers. Protesters claim that one example of so-called 'dumbing-down' is the replacement of gabion walls - metal caskets filled with earth and stones - with those made of concrete.
There may well be other details which we don't know about, which I'm not familiar with, where they're trying to cut down on costs, even though we're told very recently that the cost of the building has gone up from £58 to £75 million. So how those two points can be reconciled I'm not absolutely sure.
Work could start this October but not without a fight. Most of the protesters oppose the development whatever the design and whoever the architect.
Andrew Hoskin reporting. It's now 12 minutes to 8.
11/3/01 Last updated 11/3/01