Elms are to be planted in the UK for the first time since the species was vitually exterminated by Dutch elm disease 30 years ago. But instead of gracing the English countryside, the majestic trees are to be part of the landscaping at a high-rise office development in east London: 22 of them are to be planted in Montgomery Square, a park in Canary Wharf.
Tony Partington, estate manager at Canary Wharf, said he saw the trees in a German nursery and didn't recognise them. "We saw them in a field and thought, they're lovely, what are they? We haven't seen them here for 30 years. We've forgotten how magnificent they are."
Dutch elm disease, a fungus borne by the elm bark beetle, is believed to have been introduced to the UK in a shipment of Canadian logs. By 1975, an estimated 6 million trees had been lost. Canary Wharf's trees have been cloned from a few surviving stands of elms, which are thought to have developed resistance to the disease. "As far as I know, nobody has tried to reintroduce elms," Partington tells me. "People have been scared that Dutch elm disease will wipe them out." The elms are acclimatising at a nursery in the home counties and will be planted at Canary Wharf in June.
Hodder in the doghouse
More bad news for architect Stephen Hodder. His Clissold Leisure Centre in Hackney, north London – which finally opened in February, three years late and £20m overbudget – has been panned in a report by the Audit Commission. "The Clissold centre has a number of disappointing design features," it says, pointing out that there are no secure areas for young children, mothers have to change nappies on the floor, family changing areas are overlooked by upper floors and disabled access is poor.
I wonder what Hodder will make of this? Earlier this year, he told Building: "I still think it's one of the best things we've done. Somebody said I should get Building of the Year for this, so I'm delighted."
Architects, what are they like?
Lord Foster's Swiss Re tower in the City is being hailed as the greatest skyscraper for years, but his archrival Lord Rogers is determined not to be outdone. In a talk at the Architectural Association last week, Rogers showed a slide of his proposed design for a tower on Leadenhall Street, right beside Foster's masterpiece. "You're all familiar with this building," said Rogers, pointing at the celebrated gherkin, "well ours is bigger."
What am I here for?
Bechtel might be the biggest consultant in the world, but it does like to keep its private life private. The San Francisco firm is notoriously coy when it comes to the media. I now hear that a senior member of Bechtel's UK communications team has defected to another industry firm because he simply didn't have anything to do. "They kept me in the cupboard with the fire extinguisher," the spin doctor joked. At least, I think he was joking.
Love thy enemies
Commercial architect EPR has launched a charm offensive, rebranding itself with a new logo and hosting a slap-up lunch at The Ivy in Covent Garden, central London, last week. CABE commissioner Paul Finch was there, along with outgoing Institution of Civil Engineers president Mark Whitby and the man who would be mayor, Steve Norris.
But who was that sitting at the top table with EPR's big cheeses? None other than Rowan Moore, architecture critic on the London Evening Standard, who has regularly used his column to launch vitriolic attacks on EPR's brand of glossy, glassy architecture. Moore was reluctant to say what he thought of EPR's latest efforts, but I'm sure the firm will be looking forward to reading his next column.