Chiswick roundabout, gateway to London

Chiswick roundabout is a scruffy, unprepossessing bit of London: a poor introduction to west London for those coming in off the motorway and a dispiriting environment for those who live and work in that corner of Chiswick.

Residents groups, the London Borough of Hounslow and developers are all united in the wish to create something there which will cheer the place up a bit. The question is what? The Octopus was seen off. The Citadel was approved by the council but didn’t materialise. What’s wrong with the current proposal, the Curve? Too big, says the Council, the residents groups, English Heritage and Kew Gardens. A landmark building we should be proud of says the developer Starbones.

In rhetoric reminiscent of the Peter Sellers sketch about ‘Bal-ham, gateway to the south’ the developers making their closing arguments in the last week of the Public Inquiry into whether the building should be permitted, described our derelict, blighted interchange as the ‘gateway to the global city’ and suggested that we should count ourselves lucky to have such a magnificent building on offer.

It will now be up to Planning Inspector Paul Griffiths to digest the past four weeks of argument at the Public Inquiry and write a report outlining his recommendation to the Secretary of State, for a decision to be made in the autumn.

Computer generated image of the Curve

A ‘masterpiece’ or a candidate for the ‘Carbunkle’ prize?

As is the way of these things the Public Inquiry had long boring stretches where the experts muttered off-mic, addressing the inspector alone, ignoring the hoi polloi in the cheap seats. The learned barristers (all men) made tedious references to plans and photographs we couldn’t see, while their assistants (mainly young women) scurried about with photocopies.

While we grappled with the acronyms, trying to work out whether the CC (ok that’s an easy one) was designed in accordance with the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework, obvs) or the decision to use a tilt shift lens to create the CGI (computer generated images, keep up) was taken contrary to the LVMF (no idea, your guess is as good as mine) the experts took delightful pot shots at each other.

The architect’s attempts to soften the impact of the building by describing its graceful curves and toning colours were BS (my acronym not my learned friend’s, counsel for the London Borough of Hounslow, Richard Ground QC, but that’s what he meant). The building would be a likely candidate for the ‘Carbunkle’ prize awarded each year by Building Design magazine for the worst building erected during the previous twelve months, said architect Barbara Weiss.

The developers’ architectural experts, brought in to convince the Inquiry of the Curve’s fantastic design had ‘form’ the Inquiry was told, when it came to advocacy for really ugly buildings. Two of them, Richard Coleman and Paul Finch, had previously worked with teams pushing for spectacularly nasty buildings which were subsequently awarded ‘Carbunkle’ trophies. Ouch.

At one point Richard Coleman raised the argument that the Chiswick Curve, as viewed from Kew Green, would “tell you where you are in the world.” It was suggested to him that “you don’t need to know where the M4 is when you are on Kew Green”. In any case I’d have thought the opposite would be true, given the calamitous effect tall buildings have on sat navs.


Computer generated image of the Curve

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king

While all this was going on I was examining the pretty pictures of the landmark / statement / beacon. Apparently the effect of the tilt shift lens CGI images is that they create the kind of image that you would only see if you were looking at it with one eye covered.

Maybe that’s the answer. Build the thing and hand out eye patches to the local populace. At one point during the four week hearing, Paul Finch did actually suggest that if residents didn’t like the blazing lights of the 32 storey skyscraper illuminating the bedrooms of nearby houses at night like a football pitch, they could move.

Mostly there were serious, sensible arguments put forward, only occasionally relieved by little jokes and sniping, by barristers and architectural experts for the developers and the council, by heritage experts on behalf of English Heritage and Kew Gardens and by ‘ordinary’ people who care sufficiently about their surroundings to bother to immerse themselves in the planning detail such as Marie Rabouhans, Chairman of the West Chiswick and Gunnersbury Residents Association.

You can read the case for and against the Curve in my reports in the This Is Chiswick section of The Chiswick Calendar website.

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