Eden Project architect risks green reputation over Heathrow contract

Campaigners denounce Grimshaw's green credentials as 'laughable' as practice set to be named third runway designer

From its opening in 2001, the Eden Project in Cornwall has come to exemplify the fightback against global warming – and its designer, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, has basked in the green glow of a reputation as one of the country's most sustainable architects.

But environmental campaigners today branded the firm's green claims "laughable" after it emerged that the practice led by Grimshaw, the president of the Royal Academy, was set to be named lead designer of Heathrow's £8bn third runway expansion. The project will allow an extra 350 flights and transform Heathrow into the single biggest emitter of CO2 in the UK, according to Greenpeace.

Grimshaw's selection has yet to be formally announced by Heathrow's operator, BAA, but rivals for the job have been privately informed by the client that the firm has won the contract, the architecture newspaper Building Design reported today. That was confirmed by competing architects, as environmentalists pledged to take direct action against Grimshaw in the coming weeks to try to persuade the firm to stand down from the job.

"Grimshaw trades on its reputation as a green architectural firm," said Leo Murray, spokesman for Plane Stupid, the anti-aviation protest group.

"They celebrate the Eden Project and are a founder member of the UK Green Building Council. They are a prime target for us because they are exactly the kind of firm that could back off because of the danger of reputational damage."

A spokeswoman for Grimshaw today declined to comment on the criticisms, stating: "We can't confirm or deny any involvement". BAA also declined to comment, stating that it would formally announce its selection in the near future.

The firm was defended by the UK Green Building Council, an alliance of architects and building services companies, which said Grimshaw "is in many ways at the cutting edge of sustainable design, as confirmed by its involvement in the Eden Project".

"The firm's involvement in a controversial aviation project has to be seen in the context of the UK's overall carbon budget," said John Alker, spokesman for the council. "If this is going to bust those budgets then we need to direct our anger at the policymakers involved. Where does this stop? Should we be protesting against the people that pour the concrete for coal-fired power stations?"

Today, campaigners against the third runway planted an orchard on land required by BAA for the expansion, which they have acquired in a bid to block the plan.

Actors Alison Steadman and Richard Briers were joined by the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, and the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, as well as local residents to plant trees on the land purchased by Greenpeace earlier this year.

"The government is absolutely wrong to stubbornly push ahead with a third runway at Heathrow," said Clegg. "How can Gordon Brown go to Copenhagen and credibly call for big reductions in carbon when he has such a dire environmental track record at home?"

The orchard includes a Cox's apple tree, sponsored by David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party, which has pledged to scrap the third runway if it wins the next general election.

News of Grimshaw's selection comes amid a campaign by Plane Stupid aimed directly at architects who work on aviation projects.

The campaign group hijacked the Architect of the Year awards at the Intercontinental hotel at Park Lane last week when two activists dressed in evening wear took to the stage and tried to give a spoof award to Pascall and Watson, a firm of architects who work at Heathrow.

They tried to give the firm the "we don't give a shit" award "in recognition of their 50-year aviation portfolio, which includes expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester, Dublin and Abu Dhabi airports". There was applause from some architects in the room as the protesters were bundled out.


Robert Booth

The GuardianTramp

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