Black Paint Job Plan For Wimbledon Art College Causes Local Fury

New-look facade is part of redevelopment plans for arts facility

Wimbledon College of Art plans

Black façade planned for Wimbledon Art College

Plans for the re-development of Wimbledon College of Arts, including a controversial black façade, have been met by claims the scheme would be inconsistent with the Edwardian street scene and have a “negative impact” on the conservation area.


The University of Arts London (UAL) wants to make what it calls “cosmetic changes” to the exterior of the building in Merton Hall Road as part of a re-development to help in its vision to become an internationally recognised teaching facility specialising in performance.


In a Statement of Community Involvement, UAL also said it wanted to make improvements to the landscaping of the college grounds facing onto Merton Hall Road, including removing the railings and replacing them with a low-level boundary wall and internal refurbishment works to adapt its theatre and workshop spaces.


UAL is the largest specialist art and design university in Europe, with over 20,000 students in six different campuses across London. It plans to run new courses in acting and performance at its Wimbledon facility.


It has sent letters to nearly 600 local residents seeking their feedback about the plans and has held a number of other meetings with local representatives. It said overall 80% of those who responded would ‘generally agree’ they are supportive of the proposals presented and 20% ‘somewhat agree’ with the proposals.


But local conservation groups and a number of local residents have expressed reservations about the plans for a black façade and now the scheme is set for discussion by Merton’s planning committee on December 10.

Aerial art collage plans

Aerial impression of the overall scheme


The John Innes Society, which works to conserve and enhance the Merton Park conservation area, has reported to council planners that while it welcomes the proposed forecourt improvements it is “critical” of the dark roofing and black façade.


Society Co-Chair Dese Child said in an official representation to planners: “We are critical of the proposal for the dark coloured roofs and the change of façade colour to dark grey.


“This is not aesthetically pleasing in this location and despite claims to the contrary in the Planning Statement, is not environmentally sound either. Dark roofs will contribute to the urban heat island effect and will not be energy efficient. The dark surfaces will mean air handling units will have to work harder in the warmer months resulting in higher energy use and carbon emissions.”


Dese added afterwards: “Enough local residents have raised objections so that the application will go to planning committee, rather than being decided by officers under delegated powers. The officers are recommending approval. If the Government's White Paper on Planning Reforms go through, cases like this might never reach committees who are Councillors elected to represent the people". 


The Friends of Wimbledon Town Centre group also wrote to object to the plans. Secretary Gay Benne-Powell, stated: “Our prime concern is that the Wimbledon College of Art is in the Merton Hall Road conservation area. The Council’s Character Statement on the conservation area refers to ‘the very distinctive architectural qualities of the Wimbledon School of Art and other buildings.’ The proposed development is inconsistent with these qualities.


“Friends of Wimbledon Town Centre submits that the black frontage, with black steel roof and windows, proposed for Wimbledon College of Art would make a negative impact on the conservation area and detract from the special character of the area. The black frontage would detract dramatically from the ‘good example of the modernist architecture of the 1930s period’ that is the c1935 building of the Wimbledon School of Art.”

Wimbledon Art College

The existing college entrance

Dundonald Councillor Anthony Fairclough (Lib Dem) said: "Residents have raised a number of concerns about the proposals, but the new colour of the facade has been criticised by nearly everyone. I don't know why they're insisting on going through with it.

"The built environment - the look and quality of buildings - affects how people feel. We shouldn't allow conservation areas to be easily undermined.

"The Council's character assessment for the conservation area talks about the similarities in design and materials being 'a major factor in the special character of the area' and the positive impact the UAL buildings add. Let's not be so quick to loose that."

Giving her opinion on Twitter was @SarahKHolford, who said: “Most of the ideas are good but not sure about the black frontage. On paper looks OK - though dominating to the local scenery. But in reality painted black walls never look nice for that long. They can never be as nice as original brick. Also will need repainting every few years."


November 22, 2020