The lack of regulation over London’s new architecture has turned the city into a “free for all”, according to Adam Caruso, one of the architects behind the Stirling Prize-winning Newport Street Gallery.
Caruso – one of the co-founders of London studio Caruso St John – said that property developers hold too much power over the design and planning of his home city, and that opportunities have been missed as a result.
“In Britain, there’s no authority; it is a free for all. That is why London is looking more and more like Dubai,” he said.
“I think it is a shame because with the money invested you could have done much more for the city with almost the same profit.”
Caruso St John has been in practice for over 26 years, but has only completed a handful of projects in the UK capital. Among these is the renovation of Tate Britain and the Newport Street Gallery for artist Damien Hirst.
According to Caruso, the firm is keen to work on more commercial projects, but rarely gets these kinds of commissions in the UK. He claims the planning system is more effective in countries like Germany, where the appointed city architects have more power than developers.
“We have been around for quite a while and have had success, and yet we are still slightly marginal on the British scene,” he said.
“Generally, we get projects through competitions,” he continued. “In Germany, the city architect is very important. If he says, ‘It doesn’t matter whether it is a developer project, this is important for the city, there has to be a competition,’ then there is one.”
“In Britain, we really tried to do commercial buildings, but there the developer pays, and the developer decides.”
Caruso St John ranked at number 58 on the inaugural Dezeen Hot List – a countdown of the key forces and emerging players in architecture and design from around the world.
Caruso made the comments at an exhibition of the firm’s unrealised projects, held at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in České Budějovice, in the Czech Republic.
In the interview, the architect also revealed that – while the studio is often praised for its careful approach to working with historic buildings – Caruso St John avoids being too precious with renovations.
“When we are working with existing buildings, we are not super-sensitive,” he said.
He said his aim with projects like Newport Street Gallery is to avoid creating a distinction between old and new, even if heritage authorities disagree, and instead worry about creating a successful whole.
“I think, especially in Europe, the coexistence of old and new fabrics in one building is and will become an even bigger topic in the future,” he said.
“For the Newport Street Gallery, we did this new Bart Simpson haircut part. It was not about being sensitive or deferential to the existing fabric; it was about making a strong formal statement, and it became the logo for the gallery.