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Saturday26 July 2014

Robert Adam's proposal for new £20m Athlone House will go to appeal

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A row over plans for one of the largest new houses in London, a neo-classical mansion designed by Robert Adam in Hampstead, will be played on in public after a planning appeal was lodged.

Back in April, the scheme – which involves the demolition of the “Jacobethan-style” Athlone House and its replacement with a far larger 50,000 sq ft copper-domed dwelling for a mystery Middle Eastern billionaire – was knocked back by Camden Council.

However, despite this setback and the fact that all 540 responses made to the council over the application objected to the plans including the likes of English Heritage and the Victorian Society, developer Athlone House Ltd is now planning to field 10 expert witnesses at planning inquiry early next year.

“The proposed building would make an outstanding contribution to the quality of the area and its architectural heritage that would be particularly appropriate to its setting,” a statement from the developer said.

“The appeal should be allowed to enable this important and beneficial development to proceed without delay.”

Reacting to news of the inquiry, Jeremy Wright, a chartered engineer and member of locals’ group the Athlone House Working Group, accused the owners of trying to price out the opposition by using so many expert witnesses and pushing for a two week inquiry.

“It’s a typical developers’ trick of trying to price everyone else out of the inquiry,” he said. “If you have unlimited money, you can steamroller any private objections.”

He added that the group was hopeful that rules on Metropolitan Open Land would make it impossible for Athlone House to be replaced by something larger.

Athlone House

The “Jacobethan-style” Athlone House in Highgate, North London, will be demolished to make way for one of the largest new homes in London.

Adam’s palatial Bath stone proposal, estimated to cost at least £20 million, would be visible from Parliament Hill as well as Hampstead Heath and is said to have been inspired by the work of Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Scottish architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson.

However, it was less flatteringly compared by one critic to a “cross between a Stalinist palace and a Victorian lunatic asylum”.

It would include a ballroom, a number of outbuildings and the carving out of a huge basement carpark, a feature which has enraged local groups including the Highgate Society concerned about such underground excavation.

Athlone House section

Source: Robert Adam Architects

Athlone House section

The society recently complained that it could not afford the legal costs to continue fighting Adam’s approved plans to redevelop the nearby Witanhurst, the largest private house in London not owned by a member of the royal family.

The original Athlone House was completed in 1871 and was described by Pevsner in Buildings of England as an “ambitious Victorian villa”.

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Readers' comments (7)

  • "However, it was less flatteringly compared by one critic to a “cross between a Stalinist palace and a Victorian lunatic asylum”."
    By whom? In what sense? What a stupid statement!
    Can we have a bit of journalism please, BD - what is the real story!
    Everything that someone like Robert Adam does will be taken up as a cudgel in a style war, but that is absolutely not the issue here - it's not what objectors are complaining about.
    It's about appropriate massing and the risk of a devt. of this scale to the surrounding historical substance.

    The interesting thing is that care and respect for historical context is a badge of honour for Mr. Adam, but if he's offered enough money, he will ditch his principles and do a Terry Farrell (as a respected peer once put it to me "his (Farrell's) only philosophy of architecture is 'build to the edges and build up as far as you can'!"). The scheme is then given a neo-classical veneer and pronounced "particularly appropriate to its setting". Notably, the image of the development doesn't show it in it's setting. Am I the only one to notice the irony.

    A propos of context, why no mention of the Chipperfield scheme on Hampstead Lane? Come on BD, you can do better than this.

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  • Kirsten Elliott

    Hmm. I think I can some up my reaction to this rather more succinctly. Yuk.

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  • ............more like a cross between a dog's dinner and a donkey's breakfast......one of the elements of "styling" would have been sufficient, but then where's the "style"???

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  • Kirsten Elliott

    First of all -apologies - in my previous post that should be sum up - I was so aghast by what I saw that spelling went out the window. However, after looking at the design again, I think I can answer Robert Bowcock;s query - the style strikes me as Victorian eclecticism - aka Jacobethan. Not a style, I fear, which is widely regarded as admirable.

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  • Simon Kaufman

    Viewing the image I assumed the article was about wedding cakes not houses.

    And in what english tradition do Russian domes appear on country houses? This house is pure middle-eastern fantasy.

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  • Mike Duriez

    England sadly missed the best high Stalinist Baroque (thanks to winning the Battle of Britain). It is really good that Bob Adam would like to correct this historical anomoly.

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  • What is so offensive is not that this is revisionist, but rather that's it's just bad architecture - it neither respects the classical tradition it presumes to ape, nor develops or enhances it with a contemporary twist. Sheer meaningless drivel with some stuck on swirly bits. In this case i will not be defending with my life his right to build it...!

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