Man in the News: Baron Palumbo of Wallbrook

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1974 – Left to Right: Lord Robbins, Peter Palumbo, HM Queen Mother

Lord Palumbo was one of the notable property developers of his era. Educated at Eton College and Worcester College, Oxford – one newspaper described him as ‘the ultimate society insider’: he was a polo teammate of Prince Charles; became godfather to Princess Beatrice of York in 1988; and was made a life peer by Margaret Thatcher in 1991. In 1993, Princess Diana stayed at his country house in Berkshire with her sons William and Harry while her marriage was in turmoil. However, he has only recently re-entered the limelight, first by becoming a trustee of the Zaha Hadid Foundation and an executor of her £67,249,458 estate – and secondly in denouncing his co-trustee Patrik Schumacher’s controversial views on scrapping social housing at the World Architecture Festival in Berlin.

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Peter Palumbo with the model of the Mansion House Square project designed by Mies van der Rohe via lordpeterpalumbo.com

At the height of his career,  he was involved with notable London developments such as 100 Pall Mall in St. James’s, St Swithin’s House in Wallbrook, and No. 1 Poultry in the City of London. It was the latter that would cause the most trouble, with the original plan to build a 19-storey office building designed by Mies van der Rohe never accepted by planning authorities. After first visiting the famous modernist architect in Chicago in July 1962 to offer him the commission, the design was finally rejected in the 1980s after a ten week public enquiry. It was this which caused his relationship with Prince Charles to sour, after the heir to the throne publicly opposed the plans – referring to the proposed building, which was to be known as Mansion House Square, as a “glass stump”. The development finally topped out in 1998 when it was opened by the Governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George. With the original plan rejected, Sir James Stirling had designed the building – and it proved to be one of his final projects as he died five years before completion.

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No. 1 Poultry, 10 Years after Completion in 2008

He was a trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1978 to 1985, before becoming the chairman of the gallery’s foundation for two subsequent years from 1986 to 1987. He was appointed as chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain by Margaret Thatcher, and served for six years from 1988 to 1994. As a developer, he was notable or his involvement with all three of the pioneers of modernist architecture: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (as mentioned above); Frank Lloyd Wright; and Le Corbusier. In 1987 he purchased and restored Maisons Jaoul, a Le Courbusier designed pair of houses in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, which he sold in 2004. He still owns Kentuck Knob, a residence designed by Lloyd Wright that was completed in 1956, and lived in by the Hagans until they sold it to Lord Palumbo for $600,000 in 1986. He remains chairman of the jury of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture.

His son, James Palumbo, is an entrepreneur who owned Ministry of Sound until last year, when he sold it to Sony Music Group for $104m. With an estimated fortune of £300 million, he appeared in 350th place on the Sunday Times Rich List in 2016. In October 2013, James himself was appointed a life peer, although he sits on the Liberal Democrat benches.

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