Downing Street is the scene of this week’s tales of the unexpected, as Gordon Brown practises his stand-up routine, Prince Charles is praised for his tact, and a hard-bitten architect gets all gooey-eyed
The interior decor of Number 10 (lots of chintz and eighties uplighters, as you’d expect) might have offended the sensibilities of many of his design-sensitive audience, but the message Gordon Brown delivered at a reception in Downing Street to mark the RIBA’s 175th anniversary couldn’t have gone down better. “British design and architecture are second to none,“ he swooned, as he thanked the profession umpteen times in five minutes for creating a cleaner and greener environment. The prime minster also had time for a bit of self-deprecating humour which won him some fans from the 150-strong audience, comprised mostly of mostly architects, plus a few construction hangers-on like Richard Steer. ”Hope the wine’s okay – I brought with me from the Treasury and you know what their reputation is like”.
Mind you, not everyone was charmed.
I gather classical architect Robert Adam was one who felt Gordy was more spin than substance having snubbed him and several more architectural dignataries waiting patiently in a pre-orchestrated line up to shake hands. “Once he posed for the photographs he was off,” sniffed Adam. “The Queen or the Prince of Wales would never behave like that.”
Goodwill to all men
One man who was in good spirits at the event was Ken Shuttleworth. No wonder. Derwent has chosen his practice, Make, to draw up the masterplan for a vast slab of London's Fitzrovia. His practice, Make Architects, is bucking the trend and actually hiring staff. Still, perhaps the twinkle in Ken’s eye was in genial expectation of becoming a father in two weeks.
Perhaps not everyone at Laing O’Rourke is grieving the recent departure of the firm’s chief operating officer, Tony Douglas. In his time, Douglas would automatically be made project director on any scheme over a certain size, my sources tell me. The firm’s £490m One Hyde Park job, the luxury apartment scheme for Candy & Candy, sneaked in just under the bar. The client team’s reaction to the announcement that they would miss out on having Douglas as project director was, apparently, less than disappointed …
Lucky, lucky, lucky
Talking of Laing, Anna Stewart, group commercial director at Laing O’Rourke, is seen remarkably often at founder Ray O’Rourke’s right hand these days, even before Tony Douglas departed … And when things are going right for you, then luck has a tendency to follow. Remarkably, she also won the raffle at the Prince’s Trust lavish dinner for the construction and business services leadership group last week. Some people just seem destined for success.
A moving speech
London mayor Boris Johnson was also on spiffing form at the opening of The Peak, Gerald Ronson’s office development by Victoria station. So impressed was he by the eight-storey scheme, he surprised his staff by pledging to look at moving the GLA away from Norman Foster’s love-it-or-hate-it City Hall home. “What are we doing wasting time in our big glass spheroid when we could be in this wonderful place?” he mused. Is Boris joking, or could a move be on the cards?
Pity the poor Olympic chiefs who last week faced the public at a meeting at the London School of Economics. A panel including Andrew Altman, chief executive of the Olympic Park Legacy Company and Roger Taylor, director of the Host Boroughs Unit made a valiant effort at talking up the legacy of the Games, painting a vivid picture for locals of boroughs “transformed” by, amongst other things, a bridge comprised of recycled tennis shoes. The locals appeared to have other priorities. One lifelong London-resident demanded they “do something to get rid of the dirt on the roads”.
Once you top, you can’t stop
On a recent visit to Flacq Architects, I was shown a model of their shortlisted design for the Olympic Velodrome. Blow me if it did not resemble the very same crunchy snack as the Hopkins-designed cycle track that topped out last week, fondly known as the Pringle! Were both designs inspired by the sweep of the cyclists as they loop around the track? Or could it be that both firms attended AA student parties fuelled with cheap wine and sour cream and chive-flavoured crisps? We may never know.
No rest for the virtuous
Meanwhile, Boris’ highly publicised intervention which prevented a street mugging seems to be inspiring his staff to engage in similar good works. The mayor’s housing advisor spent last Thursday night on the streets of London helping the capital’s population of rough sleepers, with homelessness charity xxxx. He was just hoping the stint – the charity made him promise to stay out till four am – wasn’t going to impact too much on his performance in his 10.30 staff meeting the next morning. It’s not easy being a saint.