LSE hits back at Historic England over criticism of Chipperfield scheme

The government’s heritage watchdog, responding to the planning application submitted last month, said the £120 million eight-storey scheme, the Firoz Lalji Global Hub, would cause ‘harm’ to the existing Grade-II listed 1950s structure at 35 Lincoln’s Inn Field.

Chipperfield and Feix & Merlin have designed a 12,500m² facility, part-retrofitting and extending the block to house conference areas, teaching spaces and digital labs. The scheme also includes a film studio, a 250-seat theatre, seminar rooms, break-out areas, research accommodation and a café.

Historic England said it had advised the team that the proposals would be harmful, ‘partly due to the loss of the Neo-Georgian frontage’ and ‘largely because of the visual dominance and encroachment on the historic streetscape caused by the projection and extension of the building’s upper portion’.

The heritage body continued: ‘We think the additional height could be accommodated more sensitively if the upper storeys maintain the existing recessed arrangement, and have advised that the design is revisited.’

Defending its plans for what will be a final ‘set piece’ on its Holborn campus following the opening of Grafton Architects’ Marshall building, the LSE told the AJ it was ‘trying to do the right thing’ by revamping the eight-storey building.

The university also argued that Historic England should not be considering the project – which is set to become its first net zero building – as a ‘conservation project’.

LSE estate manager Julian Robinson told the AJ: ‘We are trying to reduce carbon. But we are stuck between a rock and a hard place because we’re genuinely trying to do the right thing here.

‘We actually said to them “You make it so difficult; it would actually be easier for us to knock it down”. [And] it really would.’

He continued: ‘Imagine this building not as a heritage conservation project, because it’s not the Neues Museum. It’s a 1950s building with pretty poor pastiche [façade and] it’s fair to say we are getting pushback in respect of [changing that].’

‘We’re trying to create a new paradigm here, but I don’t think Historic England and the planners [at Westminster Council] have actually caught up with that. So it’s going to be very interesting to see how this pans out.’

London School of Architecture director Neal Shashore expressed his support of the Chipperfield and Feix & Merlin scheme in planning documents, writing: ‘In an age of climate emergency, clients, architects and planning authorities will need to re-engage with richer and more diverse conceptions of heritage and preservation.

‘Westminster City Council have an extraordinary opportunity to pioneer what will, within just a few years, become standard practice.’

Planning documents argue that the scheme is in line with LSE’s sustainability commitments and that Chipperfield’s designs were chosen last year following a competition because the finished building ‘would not only be architecturally outstanding but an exemplar of sustainable design’ with a ‘fabric first approach.

It is aiming to be LSE’s first Passivhaus, WELL certified, and BREEAM Outstanding building and will retain as much as 60 per cent of the Grade-II listed Nuffield Building, designed by Alner W Hall of Young and Hall Architects and built between 1954 and 1957.

The LSE has invested more than £500 million in transforming its London Aldwych campus over the past 15 years and is now turning its attention towards ‘underperforming and inadequate buildings’ in its drive to become net zero carbon by 2030.

Chipperfield and Feix & Merlin were chosen ahead of more than 100 practices, including Alison Brooks with Nigerian practice Studio Contra; a team comprising John McAslan + Partners, US-based Tod Williams/Billie Tsien Architects and Bangladesh architect Marina Tabassum; Danish architect Dorte Mandrup with London-based John Robertson Architects; Feilden Clegg Bradley with Danish practice Lendager; and Belfast-based Hall McKnight.

Following the competition win last year, David Chipperfield said: ‘Our project demonstrates how the reuse of existing buildings can be seen not as an obligation but as a commitment to a more resourceful and responsible approach to our future, based on intelligent use of existing material and cultural capital.

‘We believe that the cultural and educational ambitions of the Firoz Lalji Global Hub are reflected in the design process, itself the highly co-ordinated engagement of the team, client and context.’

Pilbrow & Partners previously completed a feasibility study proposing a new office building for the Royal College of Surgeons on the plot in 2013.