School’s out

Took a look at the revised plans for the St George — Mary Datchelor development yesterday (links to some images in this comment — thanks, Nick). Now, I’m no architect, but these looked quite acceptable to me. They’ve agreed to keep the 1890s school building and the 1920s extension, less apartments crammed into the existing space and more green space left.

Other comments I’ve heard have been generally favourable also, so I wonder if these might not be the plans that finally get approval. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the Camberwell Society’s verdict will be; I’m sure they will give the plans a more rigorous check than the five minutes I spent yesterday.

Author: Peter

Long-time resident of Camberwell, author of this blog since July 2004.

36 thoughts on “School’s out”

  1. Who ARE St George? Are they the developers, the architects, an ITV make-over show production company? If they are a conglomerate of developers who do they represent? A google search for ‘St George’ and ‘Camberwell’ obviously has rendered a zillion results, nothing useful in the top 20. If you want people not to find your website, St George seems to be a good name to have. How come Camberwellians know them so well?

  2. Perhaps like Daniel Defoe:

    For example, suppose you take your view from the little rising hills about Clapham, if you look to the east, there you see the pleasant villages of Peckham and Camberwell, with some of the finest dwellings about London.

    Hopefully not like Charles Darwin meeting the people of Tierra del Fuego:

    These were the most abject and miserable creatures I any where beheld… These poor wretches were stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant, their gestures violent and without dignity. Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe they are fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world.

  3. Oh no! Not those Vauxhall buildings! One reason they’re so unappealing is because of the materials used, which bodes bad. Not a notch on the MI5 building across the way. Where the MI5 uses mellow colours and is classy, referencing Art Deco while reinterpreting it and showing restraint, the St George building uses a garish pale green that clashes with beige/pink stone. It’s taken the glass box theme and repeated it randomly, without proper punctuation, trying too hard to be showy… nouvelle riche… Still, the plans for Camberwell are by comparison minimal so fingers crossed…

    What will they make of Camberwell? The marketers will promote the village feel, and once people have invested they will continue to see what they want to see. Did anyone catch how many flats/occupants are anticipated?

  4. This was a large part of the problem with the earlier plans; too many flats, and some horrible glass carbuncles looming over the top.

    The new plans have toned down this excess, and I think look better for it.

  5. Don’t be fooled by nice drawings, visuals and presentations. Just look at St George’s existing developments on its website. Flamboyant uninspiring and desperately dull. Plenty of bucks for the developer making buildings for busy people who work and play elsewhere.

    St George’s regeneration and sustainability statements ring hollow when you compare words to pictures. Emperor’s New Clothes mate.

    St George is a self satisfied plc that has no interest whatsoever in the local environment in Camberwell other than by making a lot of money out of it. It will do the least it can to get the most out.

  6. I used to work at Vauxhall and one of my co-workers foolishly, in my opinion, bought one of these St Georges flats. £550,000 (I dread to think how much it would go on the market for now — this was seven years ago) for a cramped, badly designed two bedroom flat on the seventh floor with tiny bedrooms, an open plan kitchen and lounge, and a ‘roof terrace’ which was about half a square metre of concrete and an iron railing! They had used cheap materials for the interiors including the cheapest looking bathroom fittings I have ever seen in my life and doors that seemed to be made of plywood. They are not good. The words ‘River view’ seem to seriosuly distort peoples sense of perspective and judgement. You could only partially see the river anyway!

  7. If I could condemn to demolition 1 building in London it would be those flats at Vauxhall. They have no redeeming features at all; badly designed, terrible combinations of materials, poor looking construction, bereft of any soul… I could go on. I find it almost unfathomable why anyone would wish to buy a flat there. Doesn’t bode well for the new development in my opinion.

  8. St George are owned by Berkeley Homes, and are responsible for a swathe of hideous developments along the Thames, from Vauxhall to Wandsworth and beyond. If it’s monstrously big, cheaply and nastily built, and utterly soulless, it’s St George.

    I think that the Camberwell Society supports the mock-Georgian architecture that is proposed for the new buildings on site; this is a mistake as far as I’m concerned, because St George will never pay for the authentic detailing it will need in order to look any good. They will have already run up huge costs in the various applications and appeals. It will inevitably end up as a crass imitation of the rest of Camberwell Grove.

    The retained block and the glass extension looks OK, though. On paper, at least.

  9. I disagree with Ben & Joe and do like the buildings in Vauxhall. They are bold and gothic and a good daring landmark in that location (they have not used cheap materials on the exterior as you state). MY worst buildings in London are Guys tower at London Bridge and the horrendous proposed redevelopment of the Kings Reach Tower on the South Bank which would become the ugliest building in London bar none if allowed.

    St George PLC developers are the second most up-market developer after St James Homes and their planning style and scope is much wider than the buildings at Vauxhall.

    Almost more important than the developers are the architects commissioned. Rolfe Judd apparently specialise in sensitive areas and judging by their website http::// they have undertaken some key restoration projects in historical areas around the capital.

    Finally and most importantly the site itself has the biggest influence on what the developer is likely in build. In the case of Mary Datchelor it is mostly low density 4‑bed family homes so cannot be compared with the high density Vauxhall flats at any level.

    The Camberwell Working Party, Camberwell Society and residents of Grove Lane and Camberwell Grove have worked towards this and whilst I respect that Ben is an architect and resident of the later I ask why he hasn’t been more involved with the working party rather than criticising the developer from the sidelines after many others have given up time and worked towards a viable solution. After all the rotting empty site inhibits further investment in Camberwell which this development would surely bring.

    However as I said in my earlier post, now the designs have been hammered out, it is vital that they use the right materials.

  10. I have to agree with the ‘ugly’ camp; I think the Vauxhall development is vile, and I’m very happy that the Grove Lane plans have been toned down.

  11. I have to agree with the ‘ugly’ camp; I think the Vauxhall development is vile, and I’m very happy that the Grove Lane plans have been toned down.

  12. Nick,
    Your comment about this development not being high density as at Vauxhall is a fair one although I do not share your view that the Vauxhall building is ‘bold an gothic’, I’m more inclined to describe it as ‘cold and gimmicky’.

    I couldn’t agree more with Ben Patio; St George are responsible for a number of ugly and insensitive buildings. I can almost hear their developments smugly saying to me ‘I laugh when I eat Pasta you cut your fingers whilst grating parmesan’. *Thanks Ben

    They are the worst of everything, I would use the analogy that they are Kentucky Fried Chicken on the inside, Foxtons mini on the outside. Actually I reckon that all Foxtons employees live in these kind of developments and are extremely self-satisfied that they do.

    This also makes me come back to your point that St George are the ‘second most up-market developer after St James Homes’. I’m not actually quite sure what that means or whether it’s altogether a good thing. Indeed it smacks of a kind of blind snobbery to me. Foxtons are probably one of the most ‘upmarket’ estate agents in London but you try telling me that their minis, employees, rhetoric or shops aren’t wholly offensive and abhorrent in nearly every way.

    The point I’m really trying to make here though is not about the aesthetic quality of the designs and whether they ‘look right’ but more about the spirit of the project. I remember St George building a number of mock Georgian/Victorian houses on (I think) St George Street in Greenwich several years ago. These too were in a conservation area and whilst it’s one thing to pastiche a style of architecture I felt these buildings were poorly built using minimum standards and despite looking like the surrounding buildings just didn’t feel right.

    Hopefully the involvement of Rolfe Judd will be significant.

  13. I wonder if planning could be granted subject to using high-grade materials, and whether this would be easy to define legally.

    How will future generations categorise this period of British architecture stylistically?

    Perhaps it will be an historical write-off; the Railtrack generation that confused quick profits with efficiency, with nothing more to say about national character stylistically than that we were confused about our national character and role, notable only for serial failures of the “contextualism” test (building amongst older styles).

    Meanwhile, less is more with any urban development as far as I can see, so congratulations CS on minimising the impact.

  14. I have no idea whether the materials used for the exterior of the Vauxhall development are poor quality, but I promise you that inside each flat the fittings and fixtures are cheap, cheap, cheap…I’ve lived in several new builds, and it’s really obvious when a developer has gone for the cheapest they think they can get away with. And the use of space — what little there was in the first place — was very ill thought out. The second bedroom in my colleagues flat was one of the smallest and most cramped I’ve seen in a two bed flat.

    The communal lifts were pretty though.

    …And I guess it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll do a bad job with the Mary Datchelor development, let’s hope that isn’t the case.

  15. No one wants to see the school left to rot and I’m really grateful that these societies and residents associations have put in the time to move things along. St George showed us all the plans to woo us and for us to discuss them, which is what we’re doing. Hopefully something good will come out of it.

    I don’t know how much was spent on materials by St George for the exterior of the Vauxhall building but if they were actually expensive the point is that they LOOK cheap which counts for the same as being cheap, once structural issues are out of the way.

  16. Nick,

    Firstly I am not a resident of Grove Lane, Camberwell Grove or any road nearby; I live some distance from the site. Last year I went out of my way to go to the planning department to obtain pictures of the first planning application, and post a link to them on this site so that everyone could see them. Frustrated by the Working Party’s espousal of crass imitation Georgian architecture for the site, I have chosen to make my views known independently. This I have done in several letters to Southwark and the Planning Inspectorate on the various schemes, in which I have advocated the use of a more comtemporary architectural style that bears some relation to the age in which we live, as well as make constructive suggestions regarding the retention of the 1920s building, which I see has now been retained.

    A good friend of mine works for the architects who designed the Vauxhall scheme, and he is in a position to know whether St George used the cheapest possible materials. They did.

    St George and St James are both owned by Berkeley Homes, they are just different “brands” with the same corporate ethic.

    The new scheme seems a vast improvement (mock Georgian houses aside). If it goes through, let us hope that St George play against type and invest in its realisation.

  17. I appreciate your point of view for modern architecture. I too like modern architecture and feel it can work well in certain situations – take the new colourful buildings at Elephant and Castle sandwiched between the grade II listed library and a row of Victorian houses. It can work BUT NOT in areas of concentrated architectural style. Take Bath – all modern attempts at buildings in the city, eg the spa, stick out badly while Georgian style houses work very well – most of the time you wouldn’t know they had been built this century.

    I do live around the site and the working party was set up to serve the general view of the residents around. Because you individually disagreed with the majority does it mean you are then right to go and blow your architectural snobbishness out as a one man band hell bent on going against what the majority of people have worked hard to achieve which is made even worse by the fact that you live ‘quite some distance’ from the site. Most people are glad that they are not tearing down the old buildings and replacing them with new ones.

  18. Ps regarding Vauxhall development– how can steel frame with marble and granite finish be cheap materials – surly cheap materials are wood airbrick and render!?

  19. Ben’s spot on I reckon. Keep it up old chap.

    St George are simply NOT going to do a good job. They are incapable; they wouldn’t know a good job if it came crashing down on their collective plc head; this is evident in looking the work they have done already and compared with the crap they say about it. Empreors New Clothes. Um I think I said that before somewhere. Sorry.

    Lions don’t change their stripes.

  20. You people can all be so negative sometimes. I have a lot of time of Mark and Ben (and others on the blog) but people spend so much time winging about lack of investment in Camberwell and then finally when someone is willing to invest it is not the right person.. it’s a chain or a plc blah.. blah.. blah… Well you can’t have your utopian republic of Camberwell cake and eat it. We have not laid down to St George and said you can build what you like – but we have fought hard to get the plans we want. Now we have achieved that we cant turn around and say to the company that is going to invest.. sorry we don’t like you what ever you come up with is no good… no one will ever invest in Camberwell.

  21. Rein it back a bit there, Nick. Just because St George have found a place they think they can make a bit of money off, doesn’t mean we all have to now say how brilliant we think they are.

    I think the Vauxhall buildings are an eyesore; can’t change the way I feel about that. And I also thought the initial plans for Mary Datchelor were ugly, and I’m very grateful to everyone who fought them and got them to the much improved state they are in now.

    Now, just because they are much better, doesn’t mean they are fantastic; I suspect that the plans will be approved in this state, and I’m happy that the area will be developed instead of standing derelict. But that still doesn’t mean we all have to throw our hats in the air and give three cheers for St George.

  22. Also, having just re-read all the comments, it seems that most are in broad agreement: the new plans are much, much better — as long as St George don’t cut corners and use cheap materials; which is a point you made yourself.

  23. Peter

    That’s not what I said. What I am saying is that ‘those that so desperately want Camberwell to over come some of its problems are often the very ones holding it back.’ Anyway I don’t want to make anyone any more angry so will leave it there.

  24. Nick

    Your comments above (post 21) are pretty objectionable. However, I’m not going to rise to them, other than to point out that plenty of other not particularly snobbish people agree that it is perfectly possible to design good contemporary architecture that enhances historic settings. One example off the top of my head:

    English Heritage and CABE said:

    “This project demonstrates that it is possible to use traditional materials in conjunction with modern ones in order to create a building
    which is at once contextual and modern and of high architectural quality.”

    If you would like to find more examples, you can download the publication here:

  25. This development is one of the biggest things to happen here for a while, so I think it’s obvious that everyone has their own doubts/fears/hopes for what will come of it; it’s only natural that things can get quite heated, it shows that apathy hasn’t won the day yet.

    I think we should have another meet-up soon so we can all remember what we have in common, not what divides us.

  26. Good idea Peter — i think there are many new people here so it would be good to meat each other!! Does anyone now when the new Tapas bar oens on Camberwell Church st — pehaps we need to have a “research trip” there as soon as it opens!

    Also another shameless plug — if you want the opotunity to meet at least some o us here as well as lots of your fellow Camberwell citizens coma along to the SE5 Forum General meeting at 7pm on Tuesday 28th November at Cambridge House — if that’s not a big enough incentive there will be free food available from a least four local Camberwell restaurants.

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