London architect Amin Taha has won his battle against planners to save his award-winning project, 15 Clerkenwell Close. Taha had previously been told his building faced a demolition order from the London borough of Islington. However, today, that decision has been overturned and the glorious, unfinished limestone that serves as a load-bearing facade will remain.
For more than a year Taha has been embroiled in a disagreement over the building’s appearance. In fact, the council had attempted to bring the building down twice before: In 2013, when the building was granted planning permission, a local argued that concrete was being used instead of brick, the facade material that was supposedly initially stipulated. A demolition notice that resulted from a site inspection from an enforcement officer and conservation officer amounted to nothing.
The saga was far from over, though. 2017 saw another demolition notice, this time stating that the building must be rebuilt in brick. Taha disputed this, asking to see the notice report. Again, the notice was withdrawn. A year later, a third demolition notice was issued. “After an investigation, the council has come to the view that the building at 15 Clerkenwell Close does not reflect the building that was granted planning permission and conservation area consent in 2013,” said the council.
Taha, meanwhile, argued that the difference from what was sent to the planning department and was built was down to the fact that the limestone used was being taken from a quarry in France and left unfinished. Speaking to me last year, he likened it to complaining where knots in wood appear. The architect also said that the enforcement officer was relying on outdated and rejected plans for the design, as approved plans showing the stone facade had been redacted. Today it appears the architect has saved the seven-story building, where his studio’s offices are also located.
“It was taking so long and so much of our time it’s come somewhat close to a pyrrhic victory,” said Taha in an email to The Architect’s Newspaper today. “The battle is over and now we clear up the mess left behind.”
Planning inspector Peter Jarratt told the Architects’ Journal in the U.K. that while he agreed there was a “difference” between the architects and planning authorities on what was submitted and approved, the building was in “general terms” not detrimental to the conservation area.
“This is an unsatisfactory situation for both parties and it is not in the public interest if members of the public cannot establish what has been approved when examining planning records… Nevertheless, the principle of development is not in dispute and the building accords with the generality of what had previously been approved,” he added.
Despite all this, there is evidence of demolition, or at least that seems to be the case anyway. 15 Clerkenwell Close sits on the corner of the street, nestled into an enclave. Its rough, unfinished limestone facade, which still bears fossil marks in it, begs you to stroke it and feel the raw material. This is what stone is like before humans meddle with it and refine with technological precision, and in the author’s experience, is wonderful to experience in this quiet forum in North London. As you approach it to do so, one will find a fallen Ionic pilaster—but fear not, it’s only a joke, a tongue-in-cheek architectural moment that serves as a testament to how much this relatively simple building speaks. The planning department of Islington Borough Council may have lost, but this is a victory for everyone.
An Islington Council spokesperson provided the following statement:
“We’re pleased that Mr. Taha has finally admitted that the building did not benefit from planning permission. We are also pleased that the inspector has required 15 Clerkenwell Close to be modified to include more employment space, in line with Islington’s development plan. The Inspector also concluded that the building should be modified to mitigate the harm caused to local heritage assets.
“We’re of course disappointed that the inspector did not agree with the council’s view that the degree of harm the building caused to the Clerkenwell Green conservation area and the setting of nearby listed buildings warranted further modifications to the building.
“The council looks forward to the removal of the unauthorized and visually harmful solar chimney, changes to the roof garden, and alterations to the limestone columns and beams facing Clerkenwell Close, as set out in the Inspector’s conditions.
“We’re also pleased that there will be a £420,000 payment towards badly-needed affordable housing, in line with Islington’s planning policies.”
Par 1 of the Inspector’s Appeal Decision says: “… the appellant considered that no planning permission exists for the building as erected”
Par 24 of the Inspector’s Appeal Decision says: “The appellant has been extremely critical of the failure of the Council officers to resolve apparent inconsistencies in the drawings at the appropriate time, which clearly should have been done. However, the appellant must also share a significant degree of responsibility for the errors made as it was his practice that submitted inconsistent plans in the first place.”