Prince and the tower

royal - retiring Blackpool Superintendant Registrar David Hill
royal - retiring Blackpool Superintendant Registrar David Hill
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IT don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that ... bling.

Britain’s blingiest wedding chapel is open by royal appointment this afternoon.

It’s the one stop on the tour they’re all talking about. Will Prince Edward take to the newest addition to our seafront skyline – or want out of this tower as soon as possible?

The Earl of Wessex will not only inspect Festival House wedding register office, but name and declare open the new Jubilee Tourist Information Centre within – in honour of his mother’s 60 year reign.

But while the TIC is back where it belongs – as a seafront showcase for all the town has to offer – there’s precious little TLC being shown towards the innovative structure which accommodates both, along with a restaurant, awaiting operator.

Some see the flashy gold mini tower above the long low plinth as the Emperor’s New Clothes of Blackpool.

A triumph of style over substance.

Others say it’s just the opposite. Step within and prepare to eat those words – and be wowed.

It’s been nicknamed The Golden Hide, the Shed, the MFI chapel, and likened to a flat pack self assembly unit for which instructions have been lost. It’s the Marmite of architecture – you either love it or loathe it.

So just what will HRH make of it today?

Will it be a “monstrous carbuncle” to report back to brother – Prince Charles’ views on modern architecture being well documented since 1974.

Or will the Prince fall under the spell of what the architects themselves have dubbed the Tower of Love?

Today’s royal visit came as news to project architect Saskia Koopman – who also confirmed that she hopes to get married there herself ... but refuses to name the day.

“It’s supposed to be a secret!”

She’s delighted with the royal patron. “This is the first I’ve heard of it. I’m very pleased. I do hope he likes it. I hope somebody tells me. I know that some don’t like it – I think perhaps his brother, Prince Charles, would not – but I think it has a very positive presence. It is very beautiful.”

Saskia studied architecture in Cologne and Berlin, and worked on projects in the UK and Germany, before joining award winning innovative dRMM (de Rijke Marsh Morgan) architects.

Although Festival House is as up to the minute as it’s possible for a contemporary building to get, Saskia has particular expertise on listed buildings – which is why she found Blackpool so “appealing.”

She’s now involved in Hastings Pier’s redevelopment, but has really enjoyed working on Festival House.

“I think it’s lovely, and the work has been really interesting,” she said.

While there’s no shortage of critics locally, it’s won strong support from specialists. One of the world’s first and most successful online design and architecture magazines, DeZeen, has recently featured it as one of Britain’s best and brightest designs.

This week, Observer architecture critic Rowan Moore said it captured “the spirit of Blackpool without being patronising or cliched, and, by offering various views, of tower, horizon, front and streets, as you progress through the building, they (the architects) help you appreciate what is good about the town.”

Moore lambasts as “atrocious” Birley Street’s Brilliance as “the avenue of over-scaled shiny parabolas that hold up some street lights.” But he adds: “Festival House treads a line between civic pride and Blackpool’s heritage of flamboyant trash. The design makes a ceremonial route with as much event as possible.”

Other fans include retiring superintendent registrar David Hill. “I liked it from the start, and we were consulted from the start. You have to step within to really see the bigger picture.”

The only drawback is the battering the main window looking out to the Tower takes from the prevailing winds and driving rain – but architect Saskia adds: “It is cleaned weekly.”

Dawn Haslam, who is taking over as superintendent registrar, has also adored the design from day one and reckons she has the “best office view in Blackpool.”

And John Sharp, manager of the new Jubilee TIC, says he has “taken” to the building too – and it’s a huge improvement on the old promenade TIC, where staff baled out at high tide.

“It grows on you. It’s a very Blackpool design. It makes a statement. And it’s part of regeneration which will really put the resort back on the top.”

Lancashire’s new Deputy Lieutenant David Cam agrees. “Blackpool should feel very proud of what is being achieved here,” he adds. “It’s very fitting that in this, Jubilee year, His Royal Highness should get the chance to see what’s happening for himself.”