Our man with the ear trumpet reports on a tiff between designer and critic, some O’Rourke family planning and the boys who just want to have fun
Clash of the titans
War has broken out between two of Building’s columnists: writer Jonathan Meades and fashion guru Wayne Hemingway. It started a couple of months ago, shortly after we revealed the latter’s designs for a Wimpey housing estate. A week later, Meades used an appearance on Newsnight to dismiss the proposals as a PR stunt. Only qualified architects, he said, had the skills to improve the quality of our housing.

Hemingway struck back in his Building column two weeks ago. “If something goes wrong there will be plenty of players (and out-of-touch critics called Jonathan Meades) to revel in your misfortune,” he wrote.

Meades gracefully backed down – a bit. Writing in The Times on Saturday, he said Hemingway was an “enthusiastic amateur” and a “nagging Lancastrian” and said: “I have excited his wrath … by suggesting that his employment [by Wimpey] is a ploy to lend that builder a dash of cred.”

But he went on to say that, having had a look at Hemingway’s proposals, he had changed his mind. He praised the lack of whimsy and said that, as an outsider, Hemingway has brought “the qualities of the almost extinct genus of architect who thought first about the purposes of a home and its immediate environs and designed it accordingly”. Our nagging Lancastrian’s reply to that? “I think it’s his version of a compliment – but he’s so up his own arse you can’t understand half the stuff he writes.”

Vive la différence
We’re familiar with the term rip-off Britain: everything from cars to groceries costs more here than it does on the Continent. But it seems Brits are also paying a premium for their buildings. In our recent story on Madrid’s Barajas airport, we revealed that the project was being built for half the cost per m2 of Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Now I hear that British taxpayers could be paying over the odds for their hospitals. Richard Saxon, marketing director of architect Building Design Partnership, tells me that his firm builds health projects in the UK and France – and the French ones cost half as much. What’s more, every French patient gets their own daylit private room. If only our cash-starved public bodies could dash across the channel to fill their shopping baskets with wards and airports.

Knock down price
BA’s Waterside offices at Heathrow, designed by Niels Torp, set new standards in office design when they opened in 1998. But it seems they are already earmarked for the wrecking ball. I’m told the proposed location for Heathrow’s Terminal 6 is smack on top of Waterside. I suppose it must be some consolation to the airline that if the planning inquiry for Terminal 6 takes anything like as long as the one for Terminal 5, the offices will be long past their demolish-by date.

Later than they think
The BBC is very keen for me to pass on to you details of a television series called Working in Construction. Made in conjunction with the Construction Industry Training Board, it is going out on BBC2’s Learning Zone, in the hope that it will spark off interest in construction as a career.

To kick off the series, construction minister Brian Wilson spoke at the topping-out ceremony for one of the BBC’s buildings in White City. The ceremony was to be filmed and used in the first programme, which went out on the 14 October. Unfortunately, the email from the Beeb reached me on 24 October. Has the BBC’s ability to meet deadlines been infected by its recent contact with our industry, I wonder?

Toys for the boys
I hear there was a particularly popular project meeting recently at Center Parcs holiday complex in the Midlands, which was damaged by a fire in April. The team, including contractor Clegg Construction and architects Church, Lucas and Jackson Design Associates, met to discuss the construction of the Scalextric Zone. But I hear that the conversation soon wandered on to more pressing matters: the team rushed excitedly to the Scalextric track to compare cars and cornering techniques.

Train in vain
Government proposals to build an airport in Rugby will undoubtedly be a boon for the local job market. It is convinced that the airport could tap into the labour market in nearby Daventry – with workers, suggests the government, travelling to the site by train. Just one problem: there’s no passenger rail station in Daventry.

A family affair

Ray O’Rourke is still on the lookout for a replacement for his former chief operating officer Andy White, whose departure in September came five months after he was poached from Alfred McAlpine. Maybe Ray could ask around at the next O’Rourke family gathering? His brother, Des, is a Laing O’Rourke director and his wife, Bernadette, is his secretary.