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Thursday31 July 2014

Victory for Haworth Tompkins' National Theatre proposals

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Scheme approved at planning meeting amid row between Steve Tompkins and Lasdun fans.

Haworth Tompkins’ £70 million plans to redevelop the National Theatre won planning last night despite a last-minute drama in which the critic William Curtis accused planning officers of leaving out key documents from their presentation.

When Lambeth Council’s planning committee chairman said she was minded to approve the scheme, Curtis, author of a monograph on the grade II* listed theatre, leapt to his feet and made an “objection of principle and procedure”.

After his objection was dismissed and the scheme approved, his argument with practice director Steve Tompkins and National Theatre executive director Nick Starr spilled outside into the rain.

Curtis said planning officers had not shown any of Denys Lasdun’s original plans to the committee despite one of the council’s own principles being respect for historical monuments. Instead they were asked to compare Haworth Tompkins’ proposals with the “catastrophic” 1997 interventions by Stanton Williams, he said.

He told the committee: “The original plans weren’t presented properly so we couldn’t see what Denys Lasdun intended for his building, which is just possibly superior to what anyone else intends. This is an issue of restoration and it sets a precedent.”

Much debate in the meeting, held at Lambeth Town Hall last night (Wednesday), centred around the theatre’s entrance. Haworth Tompkins’ plans involve returning this to the north-west corner and restoring a pedestrian route under the porte cochere.

But Curtis and the Lasdun Group of architects who worked on the original building believe the proposed large glass foyer destroys Lasdun’s key vision of a staged entrance that propelled visitors from a small to a large space.

Curtis said it was impossible for the committee to understand this without seeing the original design.

But chairman Diana Morris said: “I’m old enough to remember the original and being blown away by the architecture… Although it would be nice to go back to the original I think [the entrance] needs to be more welcoming and give more shelter.”

The committee also approved the application to demolish the paint frame in the scenery workshop to make way for a four-storey extension along the south side of the theatre.

But they instructed the architects to ensure the colour of the carpets and seat covers matched the originals and expressed “grave misgivings” about proposed zig-zag paving. Steve Tompkins agreed to address both points.

After the meeting, Curtis asked Tompkins if he had improved on Lasdun’s designs. Tompkins said: “I think we have improved on what’s there.”

Curtis said he was “astonished” that the committee had spent less than an hour considering the application for one of Britain’s most important buildings, after devoting twice that to less significant items on the agenda. 

Tompkins said he was pleased with the decision.

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