Design fired by rubbish

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The Independent Online
A GOOD architect should be able to rise to any challenge. So it should be no surprise that the latest project for the man who designed the controversial glass pyramid outside the Louvre museum in Paris is a rubbish-fired power station in Bexley.

Mind, this is no ordinary power station. The Belvedere plant in the suburbs of South-east London will form the world's largest recycling plant when it is completed.

Unfortunately, the authorities fear it may also prove to be one of the ugliest. When the Royal Fine Art Commission said it was 'deeply shocked' by the first proposed design, the developers went for the best, in the form of Jann Weymouth, the chief American architect of the famous Louvre pyramid, designed by the American-Chinese firm IM Pei.

The commission demanded to see the original designs because of the size of the station and its prominent position in flat landscape bordering the Thames.

In a letter to Cory International, one of the country's largest waste management companies and the developer of the Belvedere site, the Commission said: 'The current design is unacceptable,' and called for a 'design of much greater distinction for such a large building on a prominent site'. It said a new design should 'change the form of the building and quite possibly its inner workings too'. It went on to demand that Cory 'take on a designer of proven capability'.

However, when you take on a top designer you may be letting yourself in for more originality than you bargained for.

The new design, which will be unveiled to a public inquiry on Tuesday, is understood to do away with a 'crinkly tin shed' effect which masks the workings of the power station in order to expose the four giant flues, that rise to a height of 90 metres, and a gas-cleaning complex, which together constitute about a third of the building. Mr Weymouth has indicated that he would like to see the exposed parts finished in anodised aluminium, which would ensure that the building would be visible for miles around.

He commented: 'It is obviously a very different project to the Louvre. The pyramid is a project that will be there for 200 years, so it's good for people and society, it's uplifting. The plant is also good for society, it's the state of art in terms of recycling, but it's not something people will go to . . . it's very important how it looks from a distance, in particular from the river.

'It is most similar to working on a car or motorbike, there are certain bits that need to be covered up and other bits you can leave exposed.'

The local authority, the London Borough of Bexley, is unimpressed with Mr Weymouth's credentials. The development control officer, Mike Say, claims the architect has been called in 'at the eleventh hour to prettify up the scheme'. The Borough is also angry that Cory is refusing to reveal the plans until Tuesday, giving it no time to assess the design before the inquiry starts.

The Commission will meet on Wednesday to look at Mr Weymouth's designs. If it does approve his scheme, it could cost Cory an extra pounds 1m.

While reactions to power stations are often hostile, they can become admired landmarks. Battersea power station, designed by one of the leading architects of the day, Giles Gilbert Scott, is partly listed as being of historic and architectural importance. Scott was also the architect for Bankside power station, which the Department of National Heritage has recently turned down for listing, despite favourable recommendations by several historians.

Perhaps the rudest remark on the subject recently was Prince Charles's criticism of the National Theatre, when he said it looked like a nuclear power station.

(Photograph omitted)