March, 2014. By architectural standards it’s a flimsy piece of work, but The Point in Central Milton Keynes captured people’s imagination. It was the first purpose-built multi-screen cinema in the country, and in an era of massive cinema closures The Point introduced American cinema-going to the British public and halted its decline. In this, it captured the spirit of a pioneering New Town.
And this beacon, pointing to a brighter future, had emotional appeal. Travelling up the motorway or flying into Luton Airport, the sight of that red pyramid of light on the horizon told proud new residents of Milton Keynes, “You’re nearly home!”
Now, however, The Point’s owners, Hammerson, are keen to demolish the well-known ziggurat and redevelop most (but not all) of the site. On Thursday, 6 March, its fate will be decided by MK Council.
If Hammerson had come up with an outstanding new ‘Point’ there might have been less resistance to losing the original. But they have not. Instead, they have offered a sop to nostalgia and the sketchiest of outline planning applications.
People are asking how MK Council can decide the fate of this important building, on a prime site, with so little to go on.
Neighbouring businesses, CMK Town Council and Xplain are among many who are not impressed.
Quoting dozens of planning policies, Xplain has made a case for refusing permission and holding out for a full planning application.
To us, the application shows a lack of interest in delivering anything that would add vibrancy to the city centre and public realm.
Where, for example, is there any provision for permeability, colonnades, courtyards, greenery, artworks and other features that would help knit this development into the boulevards of CMK?
How will the development enhance the setting of the Grade ll listed Shopping Building, the most important symbol of MK and of national importance?
Why cherry pick only part of the site for redevelopment when the old multi-storey car park could also be demolished and wrapped into a more interesting, multi-faceted new development?
To their credit, Hammerson has tried to respond to general criticism of their first design, and also adopted an early proposal from Xplain to add a public roof terrace. This would offer rare views across the city and possibly space for live music.
But there is no guarantee that this, or any other public realm improvement, will be built, as this is an outline application. If approved, the expanded footprint and height of the new building would be agreed, along with the principle of redevelopment. It may not sound much, but from a commercial point of view this is highly desirable.
The danger is that MK will end up with a large, garish shed, more appropriate for an out of town Retail Park than a true city centre. And MK will have lost a landmark, and gained a clone.
The Deconstructivist style of the possible new ‘Point’ was fashionable in the 1980’s. According to ‘A Crash Course in Architecture’, it produced buildings that were “dismantled, fractured dis-assemblages with no visual logic, no attempt at harmonious composition of facades [and] no pragmatic reason.”*
At its best Deconstructivism delivered the Guggenheim in Bilbao. At its worst, Melbourne’s Federation Square, below, voted one of the five ugliest buildings in the world.
Photo: Looks familiar? Part of Melbourne’s Federation Square project, 1997 – 2002, voted one of the five ugliest buildings in the world. Photo by Bahnfrend.
MK Council is custodian of a city centre with tremendous promise. Report after report names MK as the place to watch. Xplain believes there is no need to give away such a prime opportunity on the strength of such sketchy plans.
Although planning officers are recommending approval of Hammerson’s plans for The Point, they also want some vital conditions attached, including a Design Code.
Watch for the update after tomorrow’s decision.