12 April 2022

Marble Arch Mayhem – Challenging Sustainability

UPDATE: Since writing this blog, the replacement of the M&S store in Oxford Street can proceed after the mayor chose not to intervene. To read our thoughts at the time, continue below.

The London Mayor Sadiq Khan has recently found himself in the middle of a right old architectural pickle. It involves what has become, whether its critics like it or not, the now iconic 1930s flagship store of M&S at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street. 

M&S proposed to replace the art deco landmark with a monolithic new retail and office building, and this isn’t a new phenomenon either. Only last week The Guardian published a piece detailing the plight of the old retail meccas of the UK, the department stores of yesteryear.  

We also talked about a similar issue by highlighting the creeping problem of permitted development and the slow suffocation of the British high street. 

And quite by coincidence, the granting of permission to bulldoze the still beautiful starlet of London’s roaring twenties, collided with RIBA launching a new competition 

Cue dramatic music. 

RIBA’s competition is all about shining a light on successful heritage conservation projects in both China and the UK. The whole point behind it is to educate people about heritage buildings, their uses, and how they influence communities and societies. 

RIBA is also keen to springboard “meaningful conversations on heritage themes, showcase how heritage buildings can be successfully maintained, repaired and updated, and promote architectural conservation’s environmental and cultural benefits”. 

There’s a rather large problem, however. Although M&S’s Orchard House, as the building is officially known, was designed for Lyon’s tea houses by A.F.A. Trehearne in partnership with C. Norman, the same dream team responsible for other 20th century foxes such as London’s Africa House, it’s not listed and protected under heritage rules.  

And this provided the leeway for Sadiq Khan to issue a statement through the deputy mayor that he was ‘content to allow the local planning authority [Westminster City Council] to determine the case itself’.  

This is despite Save Britain’s Heritage, who have been fiercely fighting the building’s corner, commissioning a subsequently damning report by sustainability and carbon expert Simon Sturgis. 

And it makes for very interesting and chin-stroking reading.  

The major take-home is that the proposals do not comply with either the UK Government’s net zero legislation, or the Greater London Authority’s stated policy to prioritise retrofit. The plans also run counter to Westminster City Council’s declaration of a climate emergency. 

In the report Simon is insistent that “a comprehensive retrofit on this site is an opportunity to explore a new form of architectural solution for sites such as this. This is not an isolated problem – new build schemes like this are being proposed all over London and the UK.”  

The construction of a brand new building is projected to release in the region of an astounding 40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, with the total embodied carbon cost over 60 years just under 53,000 tonnes of C02, and the energy in use expected to be some 81,000 tonnes of CO2. 

Meanwhile, Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society has applied for Orchard House to be listed.  

Then, in came a newsflash. Architects’ Journal announced that the London mayor, in a potentially major u-turn, is reconsidering his decision. That’s right, on the same day as his decision was announced.  

Some may say, with all the other stuff going on in the world, what’s all the fuss about? It’s just an old tea shop.  

But the other side of the coin is that this isn’t an old tea shop at all. It’s a grand old lady caught in ‘subject to planning permission’ limbo, in a world where we’re fast coming to terms with our previously throwaway culture. 

Instead she stands as a symbol of an architectural world about to embrace its sustainability credentials. And when the call comes, working brilliantly with the gifts we already possess.  

If you work in the BE industry, and you’re committed to sustainability in the evolving architectural world, we’d love to chat with you. Our sector is more vibrant and exciting than ever, with a freight train-full of opportunities.  

Get in touch with our mustard BE team (details here), headed up by the absurdly capable Joe Bungey, Oscar Dixon-Barrow, and Kelvin Lau (Hong Kong).  

 


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