Wednesday02 September 2015

AHMM health centre defies critics to win council backing

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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.


Readers' comments (3)

  • kin L...how many awards do you have to win before clients trust your architectural judgement! Clients please listen....YOU EMPLOY AN ARCHITECT TO MAKE THESE DECISIONS FOR YOU BECAUSE THEY KNOW A LOT MORE ABOUT THESE THINGS THAN YOU DO. If it was up to you lot everything would look like a Barratt House...

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  • So, an idiot says something stupid which has no effect on the building design or planning verdict. Now that's a story.

    I know that there's not much being built at the moment and you guys are twiddling your thumbs finding stuff to write about but really, every day brings a new low.

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  • Err - I think perhaps the Councillor might have a point.

    Surely the AHMM would share his desire to "make sure this is a building that’s capable of being more lovely than it is at the moment". I am sure AHMM could do this if the client paid for higher quality materials and the associated fees in making these changes.

    It would not surprise me if at some point in the design process the architects would too "like the flat roofs to be accessible to the public so they could enjoy “fantastic views” across London". Probably something else cut from the scheme - only guessing here?

    So let’s not criticise someone for wanting quality materials, up lifting contemporary design and access to roofs providing much needed public realm and open views across London.

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