Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) has defended proposals for a high-rise, mixed-use scheme in London – described as a ‘breakthrough project’ for the practice – following criticism over its size and location

Shortly before Christmas, the firm submitted plans to Lambeth Council for two towers of 53 and 42 storeys, linked by an 11-storey podium at Vauxhall, south London.

The scheme, the practice’s first major mixed-use residential and commercial development in the UK, has been dubbed a ‘two-fingered salute’ by opponents, who claim the proposals are too big for the site.

The skyscrapers will sit next to Vauxhall bus station – the same plot on which Squire & Partners won permission on appeal for twin towers of 41 and 31 storeys in 2014.

The ZHA scheme would provide a 618-room hotel, 257 apartments, 20,000m² of office space, plus shops at ground level. It would also create a new public square.

Architect Barbara Weiss, who campaigns under the Skyline banner against inappropriate tall buildings across the capital, said: ‘Although these buildings are better-designed than the Squires ones, this application is attempting to add more height by stealth.

‘The River Thames is becoming a canyon and the price to the skyline of Boris Johnson’s liberal approach to tall buildings is becoming increasingly clear.’

Michael Keane, founder member of the Our Vauxhall campaign group, is also critical of the plans. ‘Vauxhall is already a very busy transport interchange,’ he said, ‘and taking out a large chunk of land and trying to add more people into it is a terrible idea.’

Helen Irwin, joint founder of campaign group Save Vauxhall Bus Station, added that the two new towers were likely to cause ‘massive overshadowing’ of the surrounding area.

‘There is only one road entrance to this scheme,’ she said. ‘With the amount of development proposed, the traffic will pile up, creating huge congestion problems.’

Another local objector, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘The scheme has less housing than previous proposals on the same site, despite the towers now being much taller – including a huge podium which combines them into a “two-fingered salute”.’

ZHA director Jim Heverin responded to the criticisms telling the AJ that the changes from the shorter Squire proposals were justified. He dismissed claims the scheme would create excessive shadowing.

‘When we came onto this scheme, it was right that we looked at the heights,’ he said. ‘We evolved the scheme to create a new public square. Our scheme takes less land on the ground but is higher.

‘There is a lot more density coming into this area. Our project fits within a masterplan that has been looked at by Transport for London.

‘In terms of overshadowing, our proposal does not create any more than what is already permitted from existing schemes in the area.’

Our proposal does not create any more overshadowing than what is already permitted

Critics have also pointed out that the planning application does not explicitly provide any proposals for affordable housing, saying merely that ‘once the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing has been determined, the number, mix, location and tenure of the affordable units can be confirmed’.

Heverin said: ‘There is still an ongoing discussion between our client and Lambeth about viability and the amount of affordable housing.’

Consultation on the scheme ended last month, but no committee date has yet been scheduled.

The application comes more than two years after ZHA principal Patrik Schumacher bemoaned the lack of large-scale, mixed-use schemes his practice had won in the UK.

Speaking in 2015, he said: ‘We look around us in London and we see all these cranes and wonder why we’re not a part of it. We did start to put out the message a few years ago but there is a preconception that we’re not interested, or there’s a doubt about the product we deliver.

Heverin described the fact that the practice has now submitted a planning application for the scheme as ‘significant’ for ZHA. ‘This is definitely a key breakthrough for us,’ he said. ‘It is a project where architecturally you have to approach it with more restraint than on other types of buildings. You are balancing the economics with design.

‘We had been keen to show that we can do this type of project and how the office is moving in this direction.’

The application has so far received 20 comments on the council’s website, with 10 objections and seven submissions in support (see bottom).

The ZHA scheme relies on land currently occupied by Arup Associates’ landmark bus station at Vauxhall.

Before Christmas, planners approved a smaller replacement bus station for the site, which campaigners say will reduce safety and convenience for passengers.

In 2016, Schumacher was heavily criticised for calling for social housing tenants to be swept out of central London.

Source: The Architects Journal