Camden is being asked by hotel developers to bust through local roofline heights and set a precedent for increased densities and crowding in Kings Cross with an oversize extension to the 1970s ‘Camden Town Hall Extension’ now vacated by the Council. The vertical extension is a gold/bronze structure that without any apparent irony the architects describe as a ‘crown’. To me, atop the Town Hall Extension it looks like a friend who suddenly tries to get in with the latest fashion by wearing a stupid hat.
The planning consultants Donald Insall Associates say in the Historic Building Assessment application:
‘Whilst in some views from the south the additional roof storeys would intrude into the setting of the listed building, the total high has been set so that it does not diminish the dominance of the tower spire as a townscape feature within the local skyline.’
And in some babble that is hard to take seriously the developers/architects say:
A new characterful lightweight extension would replace the existing blank roof plant above eighth floor level, which is quite visible in longer views and provides an unsatisfying unfinished feel to the existing building’s top. The proposed extension would increase the height of the Annex by two storeys creating a legible top. The tripartite sub-division of the building into a clear base, middle and top would help to reduce the building’s perceived bulk; the enhancement of the legibility of the vertical bays and the contrasting character of the proposed extension would draw the eye upwards to the new crown which would provide a satisfying termination to the existing Annex, and improve the squat proportions of the existing building.
It’s simply the developers trying to cram in extra square footage so that can make more money. The building is destined to be a hotel and the only purpose this daft structure serves is to give a nice view to visiting executives from Europe – it serves no functional purpose for the people of Camden or Kings Cross. It’s terribly low quality design too – the 1970s building, whether you like it or not is striking and well formed and on the other side of St Pancras in a similar marmite fashion is the masterpiece of Colin St John Wilson, the British Library building. The bizarre confection proposed here is simply not good enough to be right opposite the Gothic revival spire of the Midland Hotel at St Pancras.
The Friends of Argyle Square have been engaged in the debate with the developers and council for some time. They say:
‘We are all horrified at the design for the roof-top. We’ve attached two images from the application. The upwards extension adds 50% to the height of the main body of the building, which is already very tall in comparison with the buildings around it. This extension makes the building extremely top heavy; it looks uncomfortably distended, something like a waist-band after Christmas dinner (that’s our third picture). There is no polite way to say this: it’s ugly!
‘The building is in an extremely sensitive location; part of the vista around King’s Cross Square, with its Grade I Listed King’s Cross Station, and immediately opposite the much-loved, Grade I Listed St. Pancras Chambers. Many other surrounding buildings are also listed, including the very low-rise Town Hall, right next door. And the planning system has a duty to protect not just listed buildings themselves but also the context of listed buildings, their setting. The annexe is an extremely prominent item in the context of this treasure trove of listed gems and its development must respect the setting. In contrast the submitted design takes a thuggish approach to its neighbours.’
The busting through the roof lines is the big problem here – planning permissions work on precedent and if this hat on the town hall extension passes it will lead to a rash of taller buildings over the next few years crowding in Kings Cross and St Pancras.
You can find all the documents for yourself on the Camden site by searching for application 2014/7874/P or email the case officer David.Fowler@Camden.gov.uk and tell him what you think by Thursday 12 February.
All together now – ‘Where did you get that hat?…..‘ a song about a man wearing a stupid hat so that he could make some money, quite apt here.
Pictures above are copyright the developers/architects and are used on a fair use basis as part of a public debate.