An installation of five fibreglass sharks by architect Jaimie Shorten for the Architecture Foundation's Antepavilion project in east London has been hit by a last-minute court injunction by the local council.
Four of the five models had already been lowered into the Regent's Canal in east London ahead of today's planned opening.
But Hackney Council's planning department issued a court injunction last night against the Architecture Foundation, the built-environment charity that organises the annual Antepavilion project.
Antepavilion jury member Russell Gray, whose property company Shiva owns the Hoxton Docks venue for the installation, described the council's move as "pathetic" and claimed planning officers were "driven by their own egos".
Work has been suspended on the installation until the hearing, leaving the fifth shark stranded on dry land.
"The work on the installation of the sharks was ongoing last night when a court injunction requested by Hackney Council was issued, which is disputing the change of use on the site," Architecture Foundation director Ellis Woodman told Dezeen.
The injunction alleges that the installation amounts to a "material change of use" of the canal and accuses the organisers of "the display of art installations without the benefit of planning permission".
It prohibits the organisers from "using the land or facilitating the use of the land for the display of art installations or similar installations" ahead of a hearing at the High Court next Friday.
It's the latest in a series of planning battles that have beset the Antepavilion series since it started in 2017. The yearly competition grants a cash prize to architects to design something for the historic canal that cuts through north and east London.
"It was just so pathetic," Gray told Dezeen.
"It was too late to affect what we've done so far. Hackney Council must have been scrambling once they became aware that some sharks were going to go onto the canal."
Gray believes the council acted after reading an article about the project by Guardian architecture critic Oliver Wainwright.
"It was provoked by some daft article in The Guardian by a guy who presented himself as interested in writing a serious story and then actually wrote a load of childish nonsense that was man-eaters released into the canal," said Gray.
"What a f*cking asshole."
Ironically, this year's Antepavilion brief called for designs that commented on the project's ongoing battles with planners.
"Applicants to this year's Antepavilion competition were invited to make proposals that referenced Hackney Council's ongoing campaign to demolish the previous Antepavilions that have been built at Hoxton Docks," says the Antepavilion website.
"Part of the brief was engagement with the planning system and some of the nonsense that besets it," explained Gray.
"You get this kind of situation where they haven't then got a rulebook to follow, and so they go off on their own mission, which is largely driven by their own egos."
Persecuting smaller construction projects is a chance for planners to get revenge after being humiliated by the big private developers destroying swathes of London's heritage for profit, Gray alleged.
"They get their chance to get their own back for being bullied and told to do exactly what they're told by the big developers," he said.
Architect Jaimie Shorten told Dezeen it was not his intention to provoke this response from the council with his competition-winning pavilion design, which is called Sharks!
"I think they've gone off on one quite quickly," said Shorten, who is a partner at London studio Barker Shorten Architects.
"It's not done for that purpose. I'm not in business to make trouble for people or myself," he added.
"I've worked as an architect in Hackney for 30 years," he added. "I've done hundreds of applications and not a single one has gone smoothly. You can waste months and months trying to second guess what they want."
Shorten's concept for five sharks in the canal was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek response to the brief about Antepavilion's previous planning battles.
The fibreglass creatures are a riff on the Headington Shark, a fibreglass sculpture of a big fish crashing through the roof of a terraced house that caused a row over planning permission with Oxford City Council when it was installed in the 80s.
"The scheme makes reference to an earlier symbol of the tension between authoritarian planning and personal expression, the Headington Shark in Oxford," according to the Antepavilion website.
However, when asked about the meaning of the project, Shorten replied: "Well, it's five sharks in a canal."
In 2019 the winning Antepavilion design was the Potemkin Theatre designed by Maich Swift Architects. The year before that, architects Thomas Randall-Page and Benedetta Rogers built an inflatable theatre on an old coal barge called AirDraft.
The first-ever AntePavilion, Air Duct by PUP Architects, was intended as a provocation to planners. Consisting of a rooftop room disguised as a ventilation duct, it was created as a commentary on the "hypocrisy" of the existing system, which allows air-handling equipment to be installed without planning permission.