Architects attack `stuffy' Windsor Castle designs

Designs for the fire-damaged apartments in Windsor Castle were revealed yesterday and instantly condemned as "stuffy" and "ghastly suburban" by rival architects.

Giles Downes, of the Sidell Gibson partnership,whose ideas were chosen, denied the "modern reinterpretation of Gothic" was a victory for traditionalist architecture. Architects had reinterpreted Gothic throughout the castle's 900-year history.

The fire, on 20 November 1992, damaged or destroyed more than 100 rooms. Last April, six architects put forward ideas for the14th-century banqueting hall, chapel and apartments. Sidell Gibson's successful design was chosen by the restoration committee.

The committee includes the Prince of Wales, who has made his views on modern architecture clear in the past. Mr Downes said the prince had "positive comments to make about the design and positive points to add". A new octagonal antechamber will be built on the site of the old private chapel. The room has been designed as a lightweight timber umbrella structure comprising eight columns, each supporting a fan of 25 curving oak ribs based on leaf structures.

The new private chapel in a rectangular shape will occupy the former Holbein Room. St George's Hall, whose wooden roof studded with armorial shields of Garter Knights was destroyed, is to have a more pointed ceiling to give a better sense of proportion. Wooden trusses will be added and the redesign will allow about 100 extra shields to be displayed.

Architects yesterday expressed regret that a more radical approach had not been taken. Roderick Gradidge, who submitted designs for the State Dining Room before it was decided to restore it, said: "An opportunity has been missed. I'm not a modernist myself but I do think there could have been a rather more exciting design. It's a pity that that they didn't go that way at Windsor rather than being quite so stuffy."

Piers Gough, partner at CZWG, said: "You cannot separate the client from the building.The royal family are not the sort to commission a great work of art. If they have ghastly suburban taste you will get ghastly suburban architecture. In my view something great could be done at Windsor Castle but not with this lot there."

But Mr Downes justified his firm's ideas: "When we first looked at Windsor Castle we were struck by the extent to which it encapsulates so many layers of history through its 900 years of life. There seemed a tradition where successive generations of builders and architects had each reinterpreted Gothic architecture in their own way. We have based our design approach on our own modern reinterpretation of Gothic."

John Tiltman, project manager, said the restoration and redesign, due to be completed in spring 1998, would cost within the target of £40m. About £6m has been raised so far.

More than two-thirds of the money will come from admission to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and the rest from grants. If necessary, the palace would open in summer beyond the planned five years.

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