Once arguably the most radical arts centre in the capital, Riverside Studios in west London was more than just a place for firebrand theatre and film types to hang out; taken over by Hammersmith and Fulham Council in 1975, it was a place for community culture too.
On Friday, a public consultation closes on a £60m redevelopment of the site, which will see 165 prime-value apartments built. But while the studios will remain, their hidden presence has caused worry of a cultural demise.
Performers including Bill Bailey and Simon Callow support the redevelopment, whose final detailed design was only made available for public comment on 23 November.
The venue’s original director, Peter Gill, agreed the redevelopment is necessary, but added: “It’s the look of the thing, and the [commercial] greed that’s so shocking.”
The proposed building, with three ground-floor studios, an atrium and a café, has a streamlined Thameside sheen that fits the architect’s vision of a “Hammersmith Riviera”.
The south-facing, seven-storey development, designed by Assael Architecture, will overshadow housing behind it, in a Tory-controlled borough where homes go for an average of £644,000. Foreign buyers, who snaffle more than two-thirds of London’s new-builds, may be quick to lock on to this investment opportunity.
The development will replace the original Riverside Studios, and the office building next to it, at Queens Wharf. The developers are Mount Anvil and A2 Dominion. The former’s chairman, Killian Hurley, told Building magazine earlier this year that its core policy was to “maximise profit while minimising risk”.
But will maximised profit spoil the historic community culture of Riverside Studios? One of the Riverside’s original 1970s’ team said she was outraged by the “rubbishy” design, which she claimed was “not socially appropriate”.
Barrie Stead, the ex-Labour leader of the council who helped set up Riverside Studios in 1975, told local news site getwestlondon: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more selfish application.”
The Riverside’s director, William Burdett-Coutts, refutes this: “Riverside Studios will develop a new service to help the arts represent themselves better in the digital medium, marrying its historic background of television and live arts into a format that works on the internet, supported by video content.”
He said the Riverside Trust held 15 public meetings and looked at 10 designs before settling on the “only really viable one”. Mount Anvil’s chief executive, Clive Fenton, added that the original design had been amended to reflect local feedback.
The respected architect Jonathan Manser advised the council’s design review panel. He said: “The design has its faults, but it’s a great deal better than the original scheme.”