Do minor variations between consented drawings and completed building warrant a demolition notice, asks Thomas Lane

Tom Lane cropped

The news that Amin Taha is to submit drawings to planners showing the precise location of fossils in the facade of 15 Clerkenwell Close would be farcical if the reasons behind it weren’t so serious.

Taha has been served with a demolition notice to flatten the building because Islington Council deems the fossils in the stone exoskeleton of the building to be rough, hap-hazard and therefore deleterious to the conservation area in which the building is located. There are other breaches cited in the notice including a door being moved to the side, internal changes and the fact that not all of the office space has been built out. Taha is to submit detailed drawings of the facade in the hope that this will satisfy the council and he won’t have to go to appeal in spring next year.

The building certainly divides opinion. Many architects have expressed support for Taha including Charles Holland, David Bickle and BD columnist Martyn Evans. But others loathe it, including councillor Martin Klute, the chair of Islington Council’s planning committee, some of Taha’s neighbours and the person who nominated the building for the Carbuncle Cup.

Dissent centres on the facade, a simple loadbearing beam and post type structure, rough hewn with the drill holes used for stress fracture splitting clearly visible. Other areas appear to have been sawn rather than split. And there are the fossils. Undoubtably, what has been drawn differs from what has ended up on site – approved drawings show an urbane, ashlar-type facade.

But do these differences warrant demolition?

The reality is that there are planning breaches all around us and multiple grey areas where what is drawn and what is built are subtly different, which can have a disproportionate effect on a building’s appearance. Using this year’s Carbuncle Cup contenders as an example, there was a significant breach of planning in Liverpool when a developer erected a two-storey black box type rooftop extension when planning had been granted for a singlestorey glass structure. In this case, the developer retrospectively put in a new application which was voted through by Liverpool’s planning committee.

The Iron Foundry in Bristol was another nomination. It featured a black painted structure and included dark tinted glass and black soffits to the balconies. Ironically, the building sat on a rough-hewn stone plinth, which looked bizarre in this context. The glass, dark balconies and plinth were the factors that tipped this building into Carbuncle Cup territory.

The architect, Feilden Clegg Bradley pointed out that it had designed a building with clear glass and light-coloured balcony soffits. Its drawings showed a smooth, ashlar-type stone to the plinth. But it proved impossible to determine who had made the decision to switch to tinted glass – no material amendment applications could be found in Bristol council’s planning records nor could the planners shed any light on the mystery.

There are countless other examples. City of London planners debated whether they should enforce changes to the sky gardens at the top of the Walkie Talkie, which differed from what was consented. The developers proposed minor alterations to regularise the situation on the grounds that to deliver the consented scheme would have incurred major expense and the closure of the garden for several months. To our knowledge the garden hasn’t been reinstated to its originally consented form.

Given this background, ordering Taha to demolish his building is an extreme measure and a terrible waste. If his appeal fails, there are thousands of buildings up and down the land that should share the same fate.