The architect behind AHMM’s plans for a community health and leisure centre in south London was forced to defend his design after a councillor described it as a “dreary bunker” at a planning meeting.
Lambeth council went on to approve the Norwood Hall Joint Service Centre but only after several bad-tempered exchanges between councillors, officers and representatives of the developer, Building Better Health.
The 5,400sq m building, which rises to four storeys but on a steeply sloping site, will include a swimming pool, gym, dance studio and open-air cafe as well as two GPs’ surgeries, a dentist and various treatment rooms.
The 0.13ha plot in Norwood contains council-owned grassland and a 1960s deconsecrated synagogue that will now be demolished.
Speaking at the meeting on Wednesday evening, councillor Brian Palmer said residents he had spoken to wanted the facilities but were “pretty scathing” about the design.
“It doesn’t look to me like a local draw, something that’s going to be a great asset to the area. It’s not a shining beacon of modernity… It seems like it’s been created to be a bunker,” he said.
“It’s probably too late to do anything about the design, but I would like to see the design of the facade and the materials to be a reserved matter so we can make sure this is a building that’s capable of being more lovely than it is at the moment.
“There was a lot of criticism that it was dreary and bland in the extreme.”
He would like the flat roofs to be accessible to the public so they could enjoy “fantastic views” across London.
AHMM architect Timothy Neville-Lee said: “Aesthetic judgement is an entirely subjective thing. We are a practice that has been in existence for 21 years. We have repeatedly won awards for our buildings, particularly our health centres. Our Kentish Town Health Centre was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.
“It’s going to be a sterling piece of architecture. The design, materials and massing have been carefully considered.”
A spokesman for the developer said it would be “deeply impractical” to redesign the facade at this stage.