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Associated Architects Š Associated Architects 2008 Published by Associated Architects Publishing ISBN 978-0-9560936-0-8 Printed on FSC approved paper from a sustainable source. 40% recycled post consumer material All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the copyright owner. A catalogue record for this book is available in the British Library Photographs: Richard Battye, scene photography courtesy of The Birmingham Mailbox Company, Alistair Carew-Cox, Martin Charles, Peter Durant, Martine Hamilton Knight, Chris Gascoigne, MoLH, Moulton Bicycle Company, The RIBA Library, Conrad Rowberry, Shelagh Wakeley, Stuart Whipps and past and present staff of Associated Architects. Written, designed and produced by Associated Architects LLP

Thanks to the former partners Malcolm, Paul, Richard and Walter for their contribution to XL

Foreword............................................................................. 001 Preface................................................................................ 004 Evolution............................................................................. 006 Awards Pleck Orchard............................................................ 019 Brown’s Restaurant................................................... 021 Malt Mill Lane............................................................ 023 Lee Bank Health Centre............................................ 025 The Walled Garden................................................... 027 Clayton Hall............................................................... 029 30 St. Paul’s Square................................................. 031 School of Jewellery.................................................... 033 School of Art.............................................................. 035 Hippodrome Theatre.................................................. 037 Cobtun....................................................................... 039 King’s School Library................................................. 041 Enjoy................................................................................... 044 Collaboration....................................................................... 052 Rich[ness]........................................................................... 060 Baroque...............................................................................066 Energy................................................................................. 074 Case Studies 134 Edmund Street................................................... 081 School of Jewellery.................................................... 089 Cobtun....................................................................... 097 The Mailbox............................................................... 105 Queen Margaret’s School.......................................... 113 David Wilson Library.................................................. 121 School of Art.............................................................. 129 Staff List............................................................................. 137

Sunand Prasad

President Royal Institute of British Architects 2007 - 2009

To produce architecture of a consistently good standard for 40 years requires a special kind of resilience – combining a determination to stick to principles with an openness to the changing conditions of practice. In 1968 the architect was the undisputed leader not only of the design team but practically the entire construction process. Sites used to be tidied up for architects’ visits and I have even heard tell of site labourers being detailed to give the architect’s car a clean! Construction relied heavily on craft skills sustained by apprenticeship schemes and the emergent discipline of building science was only just beginning to have an effect. The practices amongst which the fledgling AA would ply its trade were led by a generation that had experienced its formative years during the war. They had no doubt as to the possibility as well as the necessity of creating a better world and of the architect’s key duty in achieving this aim. The large role of the State was a given and over half of all architects were employed on local or central government. All of these conditions, and many others, have changed beyond recognition in the last 40 years. But some things have not changed: the long lasting value that good design adds to our working, playing and home lives and to the performance of businesses and institutions; the importance of the patronage of clients who appreciate this long term value; the need for architects to focus on the client and users of buildings, which is not a message consistently evident in architectural culture. Inventive and imaginative architectural forms, spaces and techniques are essential for the art to progress but good design does not have to be demonstrative. Some of the best built environments round the world exhibit mainly a quiet and dignified architecture, where the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts, and where the occasional monument or tour de force is made all the more special by the context in which it is set. That is the architecture that Associated Architects excel at.

Back in 1968 mission statements did not exist and neither did overt marketing, so necessary now that commissions no longer wing their way over the phone. But the founders would have no difficulty with the simplicity of Associated Architects’ stated mission, ‘achieving better buildings for its clients’. The mission existed first; the statement came later and that must be one of the reasons for Associated Architects’ success. Another must be that the practice is an all rounder in the best sense: able to deliver the spread of services that clients need and adept in a variety of sectors. One of the great advantages of such a generalist approach is the learning that takes place from sector to sector and service to service. We remember 1968 as a pivotal year, as good a marker as any of the end of post-war certainties and the beginning of a more complex and changeable world. It seems fitting and propitious for it to be the foundation year of Associated Architects. Today the imperatives of combating climate change and of sustainable design are top of the agenda. In the next 40 years we have to reduce carbon emission from building almost to zero. It is heartening to see a practice like AA, with its expertise matured in oak over the last 40 years, rise to the climate change challenge as it has to so many, so successfully along the way. I congratulate them for the quality of their work recognised in so many RIBA awards over the years and wish them every success in the future.


Ian Standing Managing Director Associated Architects

The founders may at times have compared themselves with the Israelites – but Associated Architects hasn’t wandered in the desert for forty years, it has grown and developed to become a mature architectural practice. And in this sense of forty as the number of trial, the practice can rightly be considered to have served its probation.

This book has been the catalyst for a focus on five themes, which underscore our work and form our vision statement. These are concerned with the way we work together and with the theory behind our approach to design: enjoy, collaboration, energy, richness and baroque. We hope that these are self-evident in the case studies and illustrations.

As we thought about this anniversary it seemed an appropriate point to record the experience, especially as all the participants are still able to make a contribution. We didn’t want to write an architectural monograph but to capture the life of the business through its interests and preoccupations. We did, of course, want to record the milestone projects which typify the practice at its best, together with those which have received significant awards.

1968–2008: forty years may seem a lifetime in architecture, but the practice continues to grow and enjoy a portfolio of stimulating commissions. If life begins at forty, we can truly look forward to an exciting future.

Associated Architects’ work has never been characterised by style but by an approach to design influenced by place and the absorption of social, cultural and economic issues. We are interested in acknowledging history and reinterpreting it in a modernist manner. We evaluate our developing designs by considering their context, by looking at appropriate precedents and by continual refinement to ensure our buildings have clarity and legibility. Above all we seek to do this in an inclusive atmosphere – we aim to reflect the interests not only of our clients but also of all the contributors in our own office – and we place great emphasis on the quality of our working culture and environment.




The practice was founded by Malcolm Booth, Richard Slawson and Walter Thomson, who met as lecturers at Birmingham School of Architecture in the 1960s. Malcolm and Walter were both alumni of the School of Art in Margaret Street where they had studied architecture, Malcolm having been awarded a Pugin Studentship in 1961. Walter went to the USA to study landscape architecture at Harvard. He then worked with Sert and Gropius before returning to teach at Birmingham School of Architecture prior to its relocation to Aston University at Gosta Green. Richard had studied at the Architectural Association, where he was a Lethaby Scholar.

35 St. Paul’s Square,1989

At that time the School of Architecture undertook live projects for local authorities and for the Ministry of Public Building Works. As the projects became increasingly complex and large in scale the future partners were encouraged to combine their personal part-time practices in order that the work could proceed with appropriate continuity and management. Premises were found on the Aston University campus in Duke Street, now demolished and replaced by the university library. The building, still remembered by the students who worked there, provided a creative and original background for the new practice. The projects were soon supplemented by independent commissions, and the move of the school to Perry Barr prompted the partners to commit to full-time practice in 1973. The business was conceived from the start as having a life beyond its founders. Its name was deliberately chosen not to include the partners’ surnames: ‘Associated Architects, Planning and Landscape Consultants’ embodied the idea of a collaborative approach to design. The practice was also set up as a partnership of equals so that no individual should have a controlling interest.

The workload was broadly based, ranging from domestic commissions to industrial developments, and from offices to public housing. Despite the recession in the mid 1970s, the practice expanded and required more space. A search for new offices led to the purchase of 35 St Paul’s Square, which the practice occupied in 1976. This was the first house to have been built in Birmingham’s only surviving Georgian square, which had recently been declared a conservation area. The building, like much of the square, had served manufacturing purposes, and it was run down and in poor condition. It was thoroughly restored and given airy and pristine white interiors, an extraordinary arrival in this challenging environment. The adjoining building in Caroline Street was leased to the San Paulo Wine Bar, which became a popular meeting place for those in the jewellery trade. There was little to energise the regeneration of the area, but conceiving of the possibility of introducing housing the partners promoted its acceptance within an exclusively industrial zone. This resulted in the development of Steven’s Terrace on the west side of the square, which earned the practice one of its first RIBA awards. The partners in due course completed numerous projects in the area, developing expertise in urban regeneration before it had become an issue of national significance. They also undertook development of the first apartments for sale in the square, anticipating the city living movement by a decade. Houses adjoining the practice’s premises were converted into offices, which led eventually to the new courtyard office at 30 St Paul’s Square. Commissions in the Jewellery Quarter followed, including the reordering of two historic landmarks, the Birmingham Assay Office and Birmingham Mint.


Duke Street

35 St Paul’s Square

Conservation had always been a specialism of the practice, which led to it being appointed as consultant to the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings and to Ragley Hall and Estate, and on the restoration and redevelopment over 25 years of housing at Malt Mill Lane in Alcester. Paul Lister joined the new office in 1976, having been taught in Birmingham by the founders, and became a partner in 1984. Ian Standing, a graduate of the Leicester School of Architecture, joined the office in 1985 and became a partner in 1989. In the 1980s the practice undertook its first £1 million project. At the same time it embarked on work for the independent schools sector, which it developed into a broad education workload, and consolidated its reputation by winning RIBA and Civic Trust awards. Continuing government work, procured through the Property Services Agency (the successor to the Ministry of Public Building Works), led to the practice opening an office in Cyprus to deliver projects for the Ministry of Defence, and also to commissions for law courts, including in Stafford and Worcester. In the boom period of the late 1980s the practice expanded, opening new offices in Northwood Street in Birmingham and in London. It also diversified to undertake a range of new commercial projects. The practice subsequently reduced in size during the recession of the early 1990s. The London base was closed and left to tenants Future Systems and John Pawson. During this period, however, the practice expanded its university work, completing the Birmingham School of Jewellery and the restoration of the Grade I listed School of Art in Margaret Street.

Associated Architects enjoyed a local reputation as the city’s leading design-led practice, but it was not recognised nationally. In 1989 the RIBA Journal featured the practice in a special profile, which included the citation ‘probably the best architectural practice outside London’. On receiving an award in 1993, the practice was contacted by the RIBA and asked if it realised that it had received more RIBA regional awards than any other practice in the UK: in the subsequent review the practice was nominated as ‘the most consistent winner of RIBA Awards’. At the start of the economic recovery in the mid 1990s the practice secured its first arts commissions as the National Lottery made funds available for new capital projects. These were won in national competition, assisted by the practice’s growing reputation. Notable among these were the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Centre, undertaken in collaboration with Sir Simon Rattle, the Water Hall for the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and Birmingham Hippodrome. Concurrently the office sector boomed in the city and the practice rebuilt large sections of the central business district. The practice’s university work also expanded, throughout the region and beyond. As the business evolved the St Paul’s Square office no longer met the needs of the practice. In 1998 the practice relocated to 19 Newhall Street in the city centre, a Grade I listed building by Martin and Chamberlain, the country’s first purpose-built telephone exchange. At that same time the practice started work on its largest project to date: the Mailbox. This unprecedented mixed-use scheme came to regenerate an entire quarter of Birmingham, drawing on the practice’s 30 years’ accumulated knowledge and experience.


The founding partners Malcolm Booth, Walter Thomson and Richard Slawson: Ragley Hall, 1989

In 2000 and 2001 John Christophers and Matthew Goer were admitted as partners. John joined the practice in 1984, a graduate of the University of Nottingham, Matthew in 1990, a Birmingham graduate. The founders retired between 1996 and 2002 and the business was converted to a limited liability partnership in 2003, at which point Warren Jukes and Adam Wardle became directors: both Birmingham graduates who had joined the practice in 1996. John was absent for a period through injury and resigned his position as a director to work part-time. Paul Lister retired in 2006. The practice continues as a fourth-generation business, and still enjoys relationships with Birmingham School of Architecture through part-time teaching, employing graduates and supporting those undertaking part-time studies. The practice maintains strong links with the cultural community in the city. Walter Thomson was a founder director of Ikon and designed its first gallery, located in the Palisades Shopping Centre: Richard subsequently became a director of the gallery and was involved in its move to Brindleyplace. The practice sponsors the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Horn and awards an annual Associated Architects’ prize to the outstanding fine art student at the School of Art; a fitting circular reference to the practice’s past. It also makes a significant contribution to commerce in the city through its work with professional bodies and independent business organisations. Although based in Birmingham and deriving much of its work from the region, Associated Architects also works nationally and internationally, drawing on this wider experience to stay refreshed and aware of wider architectural influences. It has clients from all over the UK, from the south coast to Scotland, and has worked in Abu Dhabi, Africa, Cyprus and Poland.

Sketch of the New Guesten Hall, Avoncroft Museum of Buildings


Paul Lister, Malcolm Booth, Richard Slawson, Ian Standing and Walter Thomson: RIBA Award 1993, 30 St. Paul’s Square

Ian Standing, Matthew Goer, Warren Jukes and Adam Wardle: 2006, Seacole Building

Countless members of staff have worked at the practice and made an enormous contribution over 40 years. Joe Holyoak, the practice’s first full-time employee, is now a teacher at Birmingham School of Architecture, a writer and principal in practice. Others, including Mark Humphries, Nigel Lomas, Larry Priest and Richard Newman, left to set up practices of their own, Philip Singleton becoming City Design Advisor. Over the lifetime of the business, Birmingham has undergone a remarkable transformation, changing its economic base from manufacturing to the service sector, with wholesale rebuilding of the city’s urban fabric. Associated Architects is privileged to have made a major contribution to this renaissance through its involvement in economic and social initiatives as well as environmental regeneration. Birmingham is now a modern European city and has a vibrant design scene, in marked contrast to that of 1968: architecture in the city now rightly attracts international attention.

19 Newhall Street



Associated Architects was described by the Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in November 1993 as “Most Consistent Winner of RIBA Regional Awards”. Whilst this achievement may now have been exceeded, we believe ours is an unparalleled record for a regional architectural practice. To date Associated Architects has won 17 RIBA Awards, the RIBA Sustainability Award and 5 Civic Trust Awards. The Birmingham Hippodrome and The Mailbox projects are also included as exemplar case studies on the CABE website – Whilst the winning of awards isn’t regarded as the purpose of our project work, we do see them as a vital benchmark for a design led practice, recognising the contribution of our clients, other stakeholders and ourselves to the success of a project.

2008 2008 2007 2007 2007 2006 2006 2006 2005 2005 2005 2005 2005 2004 2004 2003 2003 2003 2002 2002 2002 2002 2002 2002 2001 2001 2001 2001 2000 1998 1998 1997 1997

RIBA East Midlands Award The David Wilson Library, University of Leicester RIBA Architecture Award The King’s School Library, Worcester Bdi Industry & Genius Awards Seacole Building, Birmingham Wood Award for Innovation The King’s School Library, Worcester Wood Award The King’s School Library, Worcester Built in Quality Award Seacole Building, Birmingham Built in Quality Award The Town Hall, Birmingham City of Worcester Award Scheme The King’s School Library, Worcester Built in Quality Award Fairfax House, Ampleforth Abbey Insider Property Awards Midlands Architect of the Year RIBA Sustainability Award Cobtun, Worcester RIBA Architecture Award Cobtun, Worcester Civic Trust Award St Catherine’s Chapter House, Worcester RIBA White Rose Award for Design Excellence Queen Margaret’s School, Yorkshire National Built-in Quality Award Queen Margaret’s School, Yorkshire Selby Civic Design Award Queen Margaret’s School, Yorkshire Worcester Civic Society Cobtun, Worcester British Council for Offices Award Mailbox, Birmingham RIBA Architecture Award Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham Civic Trust Award Mailbox, Birmingham Birmingham Design Initiative Commendation Mailbox, Birmingham Birmingham Design Initiative Award ADT Building, Bromsgrove School Bromsgrove Sustainability ADT Building, Bromsgrove School Birmingham Design Initiative Award Waterhall Art Gallery, Birmingham The Birmingham Civic Society Mailbox, Birmingham Estates Gazette Architecture Award Mailbox, Birmingham Worcester Design Award Worcester College of Art & Design Worcester Design Award Kings School, Worcester Design Excellence Award Systems By Design, Henley in Arden RIBA Housing Design Award City Heights, Birmingham Civic Trust Award College of Art, Birmingham Birmingham Design Initiative Award College of Art, Birmingham Birmingham Design Initiative Award School of Jewellery, Birmingham

1997 1996 1996 1995 1995 1994 1993 1993 1993 1992 1992 1992 1992 1992 1992 1990 1990 1989 1989 1988 1987 1986 1983 1983 1982 1980 1976 1976

RIBA Housing Design Award RIBA Architecture Award Civic Trust Award RIBA Architecture Award Preston Civic Society Award Birmingham Design Initiative Award RIBA Architecture Award RIBA Housing Design Award Cheltenham Civic Award RIBA Architecture Award Civic Trust Award Birmingham Design Initiative Award Birmingham Design Initiative Award Birmingham Design Initiative Award Birmingham Design Initiative Award RIBA Architecture Award Sunday Times Country House of the Year RIBA Architecture Award Birmingham Design Initiative First Prize Cheltenham Civic Award Cheltenham Civic Award RIBA Architecture Award RIBA Housing Design Award RIBA Architecture Award RIBA Architecture Award RICS/Times Conservation Award RIBA Housing Design Award Europa Nostra

Berkley Court, Birmingham School of Art, Birmingham School of Jewellery, Birmingham School of Jewellery, Birmingham Roeburn Hall, Preston Dining Hall, BRIB 30 St Paul’s Square, Birmingham Malt Mill Lane, Alcester Dean Close School Theatre Clayton Hall, Lilleshall NSC Malt Mill Lane, Alcester Lloyds Bank, Temple Row, Birmingham Lee Bank Health Centre, Birmingham The College of Art, Birmingham Birmingham Mint The Walled Garden, Brockhampton The Walled Garden, Brockhampton Lee Bank Health Centre, Birmingham Hay Hall, Tyseley, Birmingham Dean Close School, Dining Hall Dean Close School, Chapel Cloister Malt Mill Lane, Alcester Steven’s Terrace, Birmingham Brown’s Restaurant, Worcester Pleck Orchard, Hartlebury Malt Mill Lane, Alcester Bishop’s Court, Northfield, Birmingham Malt Mill Lane, Alcester


Pleck Orchard Hartlebury Pleck Orchard, a private house, was not only Associated Architects’ first RIBA Commendation for Architecture, but also the first of its buildings to be published in The Architects’ Journal. The single-storey house was designed to be a new home for the owners of an adjacent Edwardian mansion, Mr and Mrs J Grazebrook, who were keen to downsize. Privacy and manageability were the key drivers to the design of the house. The client was concerned that the result should not be ‘usual bungalow, all corridor’ and this concern drove the plan organisation. Like a Roman house with its atrium, the concept was for a square plan with the circulation arranged around a central court open to the sky. The plan and structure were based on a 5m grid – rumour has it that this was set by the dimensions of an Argentinean cow-hide rug owned by the client. The square plan is subdivided into nine squares, with the central square being part external space and part internal circulation. This allows easy access to all rooms, and the external space in the centre of the plan provides acoustic separation between the living and sleeping parts of the house. The circulation space around the central court has a patent glazed roof allowing the centre of the house to be flooded with light, while the windows into the court can be opened to provide ventilation. Externally and internally the house was constructed using a modest palette of brick and black-stained timber windows. The low pitch pantile roof with its overhanging eaves is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘prairie style’, and the house is connected to the landscape around it in true English vernacular manner with brick walls extending outwards from the house. The Architects’ Journal 11 August 1982


Brown’s Restaurant Worcester Brown’s takes its name from the former owners of the listed nineteenthcentury corn warehouse that it occupies on the South Parade, fronting onto the River Severn. A rare survivor of Worcester’s historic industrial riverside architecture, the building was acquired for conversion into a signature restaurant and an apartment for the owners/proprietors, Mr and Mrs R Tansley. The existing building was essentially two buildings: a three-storey Georgian house fronting onto Quay Street and an early Victorian three-storey warehouse behind with doors opening out onto South Parade. The restaurant is entered from Quay Street, through the front door of the Georgian house. This leads into the dining room, a dramatic double-height volume with views out across the river to the New Road cricket ground. The double-height space had been created previously by the removal of the first floor of the warehouse. The floor was partially reconstructed to one edge and the rear of the space as a mezzanine to accommodate more covers. The uppermost levels of both buildings were converted into an apartment for the owner, with roof lights from an external terrace area washing light down the side wall of the dining room. The remainder of the Georgian house was converted to contain the kitchens, offices and toilets needed to support the restaurant. The pragmatic need for a fire escape stair from the apartment led to the dramatic insertion of a faceted brick tube containing a spiral stair within the double-height volume of the dining room. A similar shortened tube encloses the wine cellar. The materiality of this painted faceted brickwork contrasts wonderfully with the worn appearance of the original internal brickwork, which is also painted. Externally the building was carefully restored and the landmark painted Brown’s sign introduced. The restaurant is still trading, but the recent flooding has regrettably meant that the floor-level sills to the riverside windows have been raised to a suitable protective level.


Malt Mill Lane Alcester Associated Architects’ involvement with work at Malt Mill Lane in Alcester, Warwickshire, started at the very inception of the practice. The original principals of the practice, as tutors at Birmingham School of Architecture, were involved in a ‘live projects’ programme – one of those projects was Malt Mill Lane. Alcester is small market town that still bears the street pattern of its Roman origin. The town was relatively untouched by post-war redevelopment, and Malt Mill Lane – which leads from the market square down towards the River Arrow – was notable for the survival of numerous medieval timber-framed buildings. The demolition and replacement of these buildings was called for in some quarters, but the owners, Stratford-on-Avon District Council, had a vision of converting them for use as sheltered housing for the elderly. Early phases focused on the careful conversion of the medieval timber-framed buildings, while later projects provided new contextual infill to gap sites and new terraced houses and a community centre on a vacant site behind Malt Mill Lane. A final, larger phase consisted of new-build housing. While it was this final phase that secured the RIBA Commendation for Architecture, six other awards, including the prestigious Europa Nostra award in 1976, were won for the work at Malt Mill Lane. Special attention was always paid to sensitive place-making: responding to the existing urban syntax as well as recognising the contribution of hard and soft landscaping to what is a delightful domestic environment. Twelve phases of work were executed over a period of 25 years, and relationships with national consultants such as Arup were established for the first time.


Lee Bank Health Centre Birmingham The site of Lee Bank Health Centre was not an auspicious one in the 1980s, when the building was commissioned by West Birmingham Health Authority. Set on the edge of a sprawling 1960s and 1970s council housing estate and across a busy arterial road from Davenports’ white GRP-clad brewery and a bombed-out church, context was a little lacking. What the project did have, though, was a highly detailed and inspirational brief from a healthcare practice led by a doctor with a lifetime’s experience of working in the inner city. The brief emphasised the need to integrate social and medical services as a vital community focus, which had previously been lacking in the housing estate. As well as consulting and treatment facilities for six doctors, the practice wanted additional space for dentistry, chiropody, physiotherapy and speech therapy. A series of medical and paramedical consulting, examination and treatment rooms are located in an L-shaped range at the back of the site. These private spaces, requiring acoustic isolation and secluded outlook, are cased in solid rusticated masonry echoing the colour and detailing of the remaining stonework of Thomas Rickman’s war-damaged church opposite. In contrast to this solidity, lightweight elements of free-form ribbon glazing, timber and a blue umbrella roof are set within the arms of the L. These elements combine to enclose a generous double-height, top-lit space that is used as reception, waiting and community areas. This space opens onto a new public forecourt surrounded with trees and addressing the main road frontage. RIBA Journal commented that ‘it is one of those rare buildings that feel bigger inside than it is outside’. The building is also featured as a design exemplar in Longman’s publication Primary Health Care Centres and the ADT Modern Architecture Guide: Britain.


The Walled Garden Brockhampton The Walled Garden is a private house designed for the owners of Brown’s Restaurant, Mr and Mrs R Tansley (winner of a RIBA Award in 1983). The client had acquired a long lease for an overgrown Georgian walled garden on the National Trust’s Brockhampton Estate in the Bromyard Downs, to the west of Worcester. Although neglected, the inherent magical quality of the garden, with its lime mortar pointed brick walls and remains of greenhouses and a mushroom shed, was obvious. The brick wall was partially built with cavities, to allow warm air from boilers to heat the greenhouses that backed onto it. It was the remains of these greenhouses that were to shape the form of the new house. They were removed and the new house constructed on their site, with the same lean-to relationship with the surrounding garden wall. The linear plan of the lean-to is organised as a series of living spaces terminating at one end with the master bedroom, separated from the rest of the house by a top-lit lobby. A series of existing buildings, including the mushroom shed, on the other side of the wall were refurbished for reuse as an additional bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen. A dramatic top-lit entrance hall drum links the kitchen to the living room, marking a new opening through the garden wall. The house was constructed using a lightweight perforated steel frame with a simple slate mono-pitch roof and a ribbon of steel-framed windows sitting on new brick planting beds. The garden was replanted with new borders and a lawn, separated from the house by a new linear pool. The house is ‘extended out’ by a timber pergola, which defines an external dining area.


Clayton Hall Lilleshall The Lilleshall National Sports Centre in Shropshire is set in the picturesque 40 ha grounds of the Duke of Sutherland’s former hunting lodge, Lilleshall Hall. The campus is a flagship residential training centre and an award-winning National Centre of Excellence for many of the UK’s top athletes. The Sports Council and HM Prison Service jointly developed a brief for a new building that would provide 50 long-stay study bedrooms to hotel standards for mature prison officers’ professional physical education training, with supporting teaching facilities. After winning the commission through a competition, Associated Architects proposed a masterplan for the whole campus, informing vistas, open spaces and the final selection of the site for the new building. An existing tree-lined formal avenue was terminated with a new circular forecourt for parking, which is encircled by a brickwork wall that rises up to form the entrance gable of Clayton Hall. While the building appears to be two storeys at this point, it is actually three storeys as the site slopes away from the forecourt into the surrounding mature woodlands. This three-storey element contains the 50 study bedrooms, which are arranged either side of top-lit corridors, with the building entered at the intermediate corridor level from the forecourt. A four-storey tower containing the supporting teaching facilities lies beyond the bedroom block and is separated from it by a glass-block link containing the main circulation stair. The tower block consciously adopts the orthogonal geometry of the original house, holding the end of the angled bedroom block. The elevations display a rich variety of rusticated stonework, brick and lead facings, with a mix of projecting timber bay windows and screens. Study bedroom balconies and ramped approach bridges are appropriately athletic suspended cable structures with tensioned fabric infill.


30 St. Paul’s Square Birmingham St Paul’s Square is Birmingham’s sole remaining Georgian square, and was the home of Associated Architects until 1998. When the practice moved into no. 35 in 1976, the square and its environs were run-down and unloved. The practice was fundamental to the regeneration of the square, executing over 20 projects in and around it and bringing many of the Georgian and Victorian industrial buildings back into use. The site lies on the north side of St Paul’s Square, set behind two Grade II listed buildings which front onto the square. Crucially, however, it had its own narrow frontage, which would allow a new building to have its own presence on the square. Through a series of feasibility studies the practice was able to demonstrate the commercial potential and St Paul’s Square Developments acquired the site for a speculative office scheme. As party walls formed three side of the site perimeter, single-aspect office floor plates were developed around a hard landscaped courtyard, with a wider dual-aspect floor provided on the frontage to the square. The narrow floor plates allow the offices to be naturally ventilated throughout and create good levels of natural light penetration. A total of 4,500m2 of office space is provided over four floors, with basement parking for 50 cars accessed by occupiers via a spiral stair rising up through a central water sculpture. The building has full-height glazing with planted balconies, and the contemporary metal and glass elevation signals the development in St Paul’s Square.


School of Jewellery Birmingham The School of Jewellery was established in 1890 in the Jewellery Quarter to further the ideals of combining art and craft skills emanating from the School of Art in Margaret Street. The school occupied a former goldsmith’s works in Vittoria Street, and as the school grew a new extension was constructed in 1911. This growth continued, and by the end of the 1980s the school was split between Vittoria Street and the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design campus at Gosta Green. In 1989 Birmingham City University acquired an adjoining site on Vittoria Street and commissioned Associated Architects to prepare a design for the redevelopment and expansion of the school, uniting staff and students in a purpose-designed building providing modern jewellery, silversmithing and horology facilities. Central to the organisation of the new building was the aspiration to allow students to draw and make in the same space, a concept unheard of at that time in the UK. The project was also to promote links with businesses in the Jewellery Quarter. The two original buildings, both Grade II listed, were altered and incorporated into a unified scheme. The focus is a central atrium surrounded by studios, an arrangement intended to promote cross-discipline dialogue and debate. The studios, with their comprehensive and flexible servicing provision, provide a desk and a jewellery bench place for each student. Highly serviced common process workshops are also provided, each one shared between two studios. These workshops are isolated at the blank end of the atrium, enabling the majority of the building to be naturally lit and ventilated, and allowing views of the activity within from the street. This world-class facility has received international attention and is cited by the City of Birmingham as an urban regeneration exemplar. The Architects’ Journal 23 March 1995


School of Art Birmingham The School of Art in Margaret Street is an outstanding building, conceived in response to and to support the revolutionary philosophy for art education that emerged in the city during the late nineteenth century. It is undoubtedly John Henry Chamberlain’s finest expression of his Ruskinian Gothic ideals, recognised in its status as a Grade I listed building. By the 1990s the building had fallen into disrepair due to lack of maintenance and a programme of ad hoc alterations, as users tried to adapt the building to provide the facilities required by a modern art college. As the new owner of Margaret Street, Birmingham City University appointed Associated Architects to prepare a comprehensive scheme of external and internal refurbishment, remodelling and extension of the building. The building’s greatest asset had always been the north-lit studio spaces, which are as relevant now as when they were first constructed. Where the building was lacking was in its provision of the smaller spaces now required, such as staff offices and seminar rooms. This had led to the self-defeating subdivision of the larger spaces in the building into a warren of small rooms. The building was reordered so that the principal studios were retained and secondary spaces subdivided to provide smaller rooms for seminars, offices and workshops. A significant new gallery space was created at second floor level and the whole building restructured to promote public access, providing a city-centre showcase for the university. The work undertaken ranged from strict conservation tasks, such as masonry cleaning and restoration, through to exciting contemporary insertions, such as new mezzanine floors and stairs designed to complement the existing fabric. The Architects’ Journal 16 November 1995


Hippodrome Theatre Birmingham The Birmingham Hippodrome is Britain’s leading independent theatre and the home of Birmingham Royal Ballet and DanceXchange. The theatre that occupied the site was built in the late 1890s, trading initially as the Tower of Varieties and Circus and had undergone several facelifts. While the Burdwood and Mitchell 1,900-seat classical auditorium could be adapted, the front of house and hospitality accommodation – which are so important to any theatre – were woefully inadequate. Associated Architects was appointed in conjunction with Law Dunbar Naismith with the objective of strengthening and extending the Hippodrome’s position through enhanced provision for its audiences, actors, dancers, musicians and staff, and to increase its openness – both visually and physically. Funded by an Arts lottery grant, an adjoining site on Thorp Street was purchased to enable a comprehensive redevelopment of the theatre; only the Burdwood and Mitchell auditorium was to be retained. This allowed the construction of a new block fronting Hurst Street, containing the main entrance, box office and mezzanine restaurant, and a second block fronting Thorp Street, housing the hospitality entrance and accommodation, facilities for Birmingham Royal Ballet and new 200seat studio theatre. These new elements and the retained auditorium meet around a central atrium space, which provides access to all theatre levels and contains the theatre bars, cloakrooms and other support functions. A new ‘get in’ and enlarged rear stage area were also provided to accommodate the needs of touring productions. Opened in November 2001 the new Hippodrome is a model of excellence in accessibility and integration of public art. The Architects’ Journal 14 March 2002


Cobtun Worcester Cobtun is a private house on a conservation area site overlooking the River Severn, in the Northwick suburb of Worcester. Nicholas Worsley’s brief requested that ecological and sustainable concerns be considered as a fundamental component to the design of the house. The house is made from local oak and glass abutting an unusual wall of red earth. Against this encircling wall and buffer spaces to the north, a south-facing open-plan layout opens out to a terrace overlooking a grass meadow with distant views beyond, across the River Severn to the west. The vertical volumes of chimney stack and principal bathroom are finished in render using sand from the site itself. Low environmental impact materials and construction are used throughout, including recycled cellulose and timber and the site earth. Energy conservation measures include solar panels, rainwater reclamation and a passive solar strategy, with vines giving seasonal shading. The house was featured by The Architects’ Journal, and The Observer’s architecture critic Deyan Sudjic described its aesthetic qualities as “like a seamless three-dimensional Richard Long wall piece” and commented “it’s an advertisement as much for the pleasure to be had in building … as a manifesto for sustainability.” Despite its small scale, the BBC cited it as “an outstanding work of modern architecture capable of becoming a future building of wider significance.” The Architects’ Journal 4 November 2004


King’s School Library Worcester Associated Architects’ work at King’s School originated in a masterplanning commission in 1997 to review the school’s operations and building stock at the cessation of boarding. Located in the shadow of Worcester Cathedral and occupying much of the former cathedral precinct, the school’s buildings ranged in age from thirteenth century to twentieth century. A phased programme of reordering, landscape works and new building followed on from the original commission. The library is spread over two floors of a large nineteenth-century building, carving large spaces from within the building. A new light well and ‘Long Gallery’ route give access and a strong identity to the library, and link two main quadrangles. The new building provides a facility of 850m2, with full IT provision and 100 reader stations. Archive, exhibition, careers and office space and digital information screens are also accommodated. Flexibility is built into the design in order that it can operate for different user groups: open for general access, enclosed for group working, and mixed mode for exhibition and research use. A specially designed natural ventilation strategy and excellent levels of daylighting help to create a highly energy-efficient building. The library, the sixth contract to be carried out for the school by Associated Architects, is now at the heart of the whole school redevelopment. “a refreshing and confident remodelling ... a building flooded with natural light, full of innovative features yet modest in its external impact on the surroundings” City of Worcester


Enjoy Enjoy, the only word from our vision statement that didn’t need any debate. We all agreed that if we didn’t enjoy it, then we shouldn’t be doing it. So what do we enjoy?

Making things

“The making of interesting things, however, can make people content and even happy.” 1 What started as a way of breaking the ice at the office Christmas lunch rapidly turned in to a competition of ingenuity, creativity and quality of craftsmanship – testing skills, wit and impudence in front of a very demanding audience. This annual foray at Christmas has challenged many traditions, producing six-way Christmas crackers (complete with a bang) as well as illuminated hats, prickly jumpers and edible beards (intentional and not). Tiring slightly of the effort involved in making actual things, more recent exploits have included performances of improvised carols, and pantomimes which seamlessly meld characters in the office with those more recognisable in the public domain. Who can forget Ian ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’ Standing’s dramatic performance in a pair of stripy tights?; or Matt’s particularly enthusiastic rendition of ‘YMCA’, which scooped the top prize in the 2006 Christmas disco challenge? Adam and Warren, on other hand, seem content to take any supporting roles that allow them to apply some lippy. Final call for the ugly sisters! 1 Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian, 23 August 2008


Playing hide-and-seek

“If a window seems to ask a question, it always provides an answer.” 2 We’re not sure that this was part of Benson & Forsyth’s original brief for either the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, or the National Gallery of Ireland’s Millennium wing (Dublin) but we enjoyed exploring the buildings’ eclectic openings and views anyway. It was more seek than hide in the installation ‘Blind Light’ by Antony Gormley which had the magical quality of appearing to capture a cloud in a box. As people entered the brightly lit space they disappeared in to the mist, blindly seeking the boundary that redefined them as an outreached hand. We were so absorbed we had to run for the train home. “As we walked around Blind Light at the Hayward Gallery during the final stages of its installation, Gormley spoke to me about the city, architecture, the relationship between perception and being lost; then paused and checked himself, as if realising that he was talking too much and too vaguely, or that he was making words where the work can speak for itself.” Then he said: “But you see, what’s really important here is the anthropological.” 3 2 Gordon Benson, Benson & forsyth, articles/cwa35.htm 3 (Hugh Brody, The Guardian, 26 May 2007),


Riding our bikes

“Historically, cycling shorts were made of knit black wool, which hides oil and grease stains, with a chamois leather patch inside the shorts in the crotch area, which reduced chafing from the bicycle saddle.”4 Bikes are big in our office so it is quite fitting that our first summer outing was the ‘Longest Ride on the Longest Day’ – the grand opening of Sustran’s cycle network. Described by the Director of the Millennium Commission as a ‘crowning achievement, and encompassing the ethos of the new millennium’, the National Cycle Network which was launched in Birmingham in 2000, was the result of working together. A partnership of four hundred different organisations delivered more than 5000 miles of dedicated cycle routes across the UK; and this in turn offered the perfect opportunity for us to leave the office and spend the day together. Bikes managed to feature in our second office outing too when the lycra-clad contingent followed our building visit to Wessex Water’s headquarters with lunch at Mud Dock – a café in Bristol which also happens to be a cycle shop! Since then various members of the office have donned their cycling shorts and pedalled their way across Iceland, Peru and Mont Blanc; from London to Paris, and from Birmingham to Aberdovey. Wiggle delivery anyone?


4 (Wikipedia)


When John Pawson teamed up with food writer Annie Bell to write a cookery book it was with the aim of applying his architectural approach – that of calm, uncluttered, flawless spaces – to food; enriching the everyday experience by paring meals down to their essentials. Our travels seem to lead us towards local – the best a place has to offer – which reflects our architectural approach. Understanding place and context is the starting point for every project – through analysis, research and aimless wandering. Amongst the traditional knedlíky in Prague we flaneurs spied, from the walls of the cathedral, a beach which belonged to a restaurant serving contemporary Czech cuisine. This accidental find remains one of our favorites, largely because of the ever-lasting memory of the boys in their sun loungers but also because of the unexpectedness of such a place in the historic heart of the city.


Hanging around

Quite literally in Mark’s case. In 2006 we shunned the city to ‘go ape’ in the treetops of Grizedale Forest and Mark managed to make it half way down the first zip wire before getting stuck – leaving the rest of us hanging around waiting for him to be rescued by a very nice young lady. A leather-lined confessional in Restaurant Bon, a Philipe Starck designed restaurant in Paris offered a fantastic space to hang around in between courses – sharing muffled secrets with the girls; and in Amsterdam we just enjoyed hanging around in the coffee houses. Enough said.


“The only way to enjoy architecture is not just to look at it but to move around it and through it.” 5 Our summer outings are an opportunity collectively to share and experience architecture. Our admin staff never cease to be surprised by how much we touch (and sniff and stroke) what we’re seeing but the advantage of visiting buildings over looking at them in the journals is that you can get a proper sense of the space and materiality. In Paris we enjoyed a guided tour of the Maison de Verre (Pierre Chareau and Bernard Bijvoet). Built in 1932, the house was inserted below the retained top floor of an existing 18th-century hôtel particulier which was occupied by an old lady who couldn’t be evicted. Commissioned by Dr Jean Dalsace (a gynecologist) and his wife Anne (a socialite) the house contains numerous traces of it’s occupiers – the glimpse in to the waiting room from the salon for Mrs Dalsace to keep an eye on her husband’s patients; the sweeping curve of the door handle as Dr Dalsace bows down to open the door for the dear lady client; the doors which are gently curved so that the ‘opening up’ of the room as you open the door is emphasized, and the separate ash-trays for cigarettes (with a lip for resting) and cigars (without) which echoed the etiquette of the time. The façade which gives the building it’s name was made of glass blocks more commonly used in pavement lights; the floors of (now decaying) rubber and everywhere was a juxtaposition of industrial materials and domesticity. What a shame we could look but not touch this time … John! 5 (Kenneth Bayes, Living Architecture: Rudolf Steiner’s Ideas in Practice)



Journalist:  Of all the people who labour in the same musical field as you do, how many are protest singers, that is people who use the songs to protest the social state in which we live? Are there that many? Dylan:   Yeah, you could say, 136. Journalist:   You mean exactly 136? Dylan:   Ah, well, it might be 132. 1 Co-labour-ation; to labour or work together. In 1944 occupied France it was a dirty word. In some architectural circles, where large egos hold sway, it still is. As a child of the ’60s, Associated Architects takes a different view. We are more in tune with Fluxus, a loose ’60s collective network of artists as diverse as John Cage, Marcel Duchamp and Yoko Ono. The blending of different artistic media, a hallmark of their collaborative ‘happenings’, was very much in the air when Associated Architects formed in 1968. The name of the practice is a similar anonymous or collaborative one. We recognise that better things can come out of cooperation between creative people than from simple individual endeavour. Christopher Alexander described this process: “to make a building egoless [the designer] must let go of his wilful images, and start with a void” 2.


All buildings are collaborations between different people. We have to understand the brief: laser eye surgery and ophthalmic procedures at Aston University Day hospital; the judicial system at Bristol Civil Justice Centre; the performing arts at Queen Margaret’s School and Birmingham Hippodrome. Unlike fine artists, however, we cannot make our work in isolation. We need clients to commission the buildings; contractors to manage them; craftsmen to make them; subcontractors for specialist items; quantity surveyors to control their costs; structural engineers to make them stand up; mechanical engineers for heating and ventilation; electrical engineers for power, data and fire alarms; highway engineers for vehicle and travel plans; urban designers for streets and public spaces; landscape architects for paving and planting; ecologists to advise on wildlife habitats; acousticians for sound; planners for permission to build; officers for building regulations approval; CDM Coordinators for health and safety; Party Wall Act surveyors; police liaison officers; community consultation facilitators; solicitors for easements; archaeologist to dig; BREEAM assessors for environmental approval; theatre consultants; fire officers; furniture makers; ironmongers; artists …! 1. Bob Dylan, interview in Los Angeles, 1965. 2. Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building. Oxford University Press, New York, 1979.

Sir John Egan’s 1998 report Rethinking Construction concluded that the industry needed radical change, including positive attitudes and collaboration rather than confrontation. “Partnering involves two or more organisations working together to improve performance through agreeing mutual objectives, devising a way for resolving any disputes and committing themselves to continuous improvement, measuring progress and sharing the gains.” 3 Others put in more succinctly: Bob and his gang have so much fun Working together to get the job done. Bob the Builder, can we fix it? Bob the Builder, yes we can! 4

An artist’s colour palette was the unusual starting point at Birmingham Hippodrome, where we collaborated with the Edinburgh architects Law Dunbar Naismith. Balraj Khanna painted the fire curtain following an invited competition. His work takes the pyrotechnic idea of the ‘big bang’. The pieces of the exploding abstract composition could interlock to form a whole. The work was painted in the auditorium, and the actual palette he used, complete with paints, was given to us. We decided to use this palette as the basis for colour schemes that would help people navigate the complex series of interconnecting buildings and spaces. Colours signal important elements: blue for the atrium wall, red for the staff staircases, turquoise for the public WCs, purple for seating fabric etc. Crimson, purple, plum, cream and silver have replaced the ’70s brown and beige and combine with mirrors and glass to provide a rich theatrical backdrop. Liz Rideal’s huge etched-glass screen, its repeated drape motif inspired by the stage curtain, fronts the grand staircase. 3. Sir John Egan & Construction Task Force, Rethinking Construction. DTI/HMSO, 1998. 4. BBC, “Bob the Builder”; first broadcast 1998.


Violins, French horns and a whole galaxy of musical instrument cases frequently filled our office reception area in the mid ’90s. “We didn’t want a developed design, we wanted to work up the scheme in collaboration with the architects”, said Richard York of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 5. The concept of a warehouse/factory/laboratory building was the result. The austerity of the raw brickwork, galvanised steel and stress-grade stamped timbers is tempered by five different artist commissions. Wendy Ramshaw made the main entrance door handles and Alex Beleschenko made a multilayered internal screen, using tiny glass ellipses to represent musical notes. The wool rug in the reception area is by Shelagh Wakely. Shelagh had previously made an installation at the British School in Rome using turmeric laid all over the floor; during the night, lizards and other little geckos ran through the tumeric, leaving snaking patterns and tracks. These patterns inspired her CBSO rug. The luxuriant richness of this piece is a lovely counterpoint to our industrial interiors.

Carpet tiles are used as a theme at all Acorns children’s hospices. At the Birmingham hospice we used teddy bears, and at Walsall, ribbons. For our third hospice, in Worcester, we held a workshop session with terminally ill children and their siblings at the New Art Gallery in Walsall. that resulted in a series of dynamic ‘splat’ paintings, created by putting paint onto spinning disks and allowing centrifugal force to take over. These paintings were translated into both large and small ‘splats’, which are used on carpet tiles throughout the building.

5. Kenneth Powell, “Curtain Call”. The Architects’ Journal, March 2002.


Birmingham’s metamorphosis over the past twenty years from a car city to a pedestrian city is well known. Urban designers often talk about ‘permeability’ and ‘connectivity’, meaning the pedestrian routes that run through a city and link places together. The conceptual artist Thomas Heatherwick added a lovely twist to this when working with us on Birmingham Mailbox: the electrical connections on printed circuit boards inspired the creation of coloured lines that meander across pavements and shoot up street-lighting columns.

Birmingham’s Building Schools for the Future is a collaboration between schools, leading educationalists, the City of Birmingham, Associated Architects and other architects to build eighty-six schools over the next twenty years. The collaborators all bring enthusiasm and their own experiences to the initiative. We lead one team, working alongside the younger architectural practice FAT, who challenge any preconceptions we may have had. The result is a more dynamic approach, based on great debate about process, integrity and rationale. It is infectious. Not structured into design team meetings once a fortnight; it is daily, even hourly. Not about personal agendas or egos or compromise; it is about advancement and the best possible result. We have found it positive and refreshing.

Collaborations spanning several decades can produce qualitatively different results. Successful ten or twenty-year masterplans for the University of Central England/Birmingham City University, Dean Close School in Cheltenham, Bromsgrove School and The King’s School in Worcester have enabled us to develop continuing themes of cloisters, courtyards, buildings and sequences of spaces to unify a place. Our ongoing collaborations with glass artist Alex Beleschenko and lettering sculptor Gary Breeze also span the decades. Gary chooses quotations and cuts lettering for specific locations. At Bromsgrove School’s Art, Design and Technology building he carved wording from the painter and Bauhaus teacher Paul Klee into large blocks of sandstone. The words sum up the ethos of the department, and of the school in general: “Man is not finished. One must be ready to develop, open to change and, in one’s life, an exalted child: a child of creation and the creator.”


Closures or mergers of schools are often emotive and involve us in public consultation with pupils, parents, teachers, healthcare trusts and the community. Ideas from these conversations can be fed into the design process. Two primary schools in Coventry started life in this way. After working with children as young as three, the scheme we presented for Charter School was based on spaces that could be put together as a children’s jigsaw. The scheme also used various children’s designs on internal panelling. Local parents were keen to be involved and so we met at school fetes and pupil/parent feedback forums. At Stivichall School we worked with artists from Creative Partnerships on daylight studies. Cut-out shapes in windows allowed children to understand sunlight paths over the school day. These ideas were further developed in the design of the classrooms. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eileen Gray, Arne Jacobsen. Architects often design furniture for their buildings, and we enjoy collaborative furniture design too. For educational buildings we have worked with Professor Richard Snell at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. Some of the results are now sold worldwide. At No. 5 Barristers’ Chambers in Birmingham we involved three different furniture makers for tables, chairs and reception desk, the result of an invited competition. In the library of The King’s School, Worcester, Ice Birch plywood follows through from panelling into stairs, desks, shelving, and even bookends.


A whole galaxy of artists collaborated, finally, on the former Birmingham Science Museum site. Reiko Aoyagi, Michael Collins, Ravi Deepres, Alistair Grant, Stuart Mugridge and the art consultant Julie Seddon-Jones worked with Neville Topping and us over three years. The site has huge historic value for two reasons. It started life as the famous works of George Elkington and Alexander Parkes, where electroplating, vulcanisation and early nitrocellulose plastics were pioneered to feed the insatiable Victorian appetite. Then, in 1951, the building became the Museum of Science and Industry, a microcosm of the exhilarating inventive ingenuity of Birmingham. The closure of the museum in 1997 “compounded an acute sense of loss felt by many still mournful of their city’s decline as an important industrial hub” 6. The Museum of Lost Heritage was formed in 2006: an association running a continuing programme of public arts events and ‘happenings’ on the site. This hugely ambitious project has included film, installations and the recording of salvaged objects, stories, memories and reminiscences from hundreds of people. Artwork on the new site, wallpaper designs and a whole host of other ideas are in the final designs. Map-making. Territory. Rubbish. Stuff and nonsense. A bird’s skeleton. Decay. Love. Astonishment. Identity. Rich layers of history, teaching us the potential of genuine open-minded collaboration in revealing the concealed – almost sacred – identity of place. 6. Reiko Aoyagi et al., Salvage Documentation Transformation. MoLH Publications, 2007.


Rich[ness] More design takes place away from the desk than at it, the ideas that inhabit the mind are not distilled into the 7.5 hour working day, but gradually pervade into our daily lives. The sights, smells, and touch of a building seen on paper or in person are not ones that can necessary be defined as work, but are more readily seen as an enrichment to our soul.

“Yellow is the most light-giving of all hues. It loses this trait the moment we shade it with gray, black, or violet. Yellow is, as it were, a denser, material white. The further this yellowed light is drawn into the denseness of matter, of opacity, the more it is assimilated to yellow-range, orange and red-orange. Our red is the stepping point of yellow, with which it is not visibly tinged. In the centre of the yellow-to-red band we have orange, as the strongest and most concentrated interpenetration of light and matter.” Itten The Element of Colour: A Treatise on the Colour System of Johannes Itten Based on his Book ‘The Art of Colour’, trans. Van Hagen, Ernst, pub. John Wiley & Sons, Inc p.84-85

“Primary colours are used as accents throughout, whether it’s the bright yellow sliding door between living and bedroom spaces, or a cheeky little recess used to display knick-knacks painted royal blue.” Grand Designs November 2006, pub. 4 Magazines – ‘Down to earth’, p. 16 – Cobtun

“Murky. Things wabi-sabi have a vague, blurry, or attenuated quality – as things do as they approach nothingness (or come out of it). Once-hard edges take on a soft pale glow. Once-substantial materiality appears almost sponge-like. Once-bright saturated colours fade in to muddy earth tones or the smoky hues of dawn and duck. Wabi-sabi comes in an infinite spectrum of greys: grey-blue brown, silver-red greyish black, indigo yellowish-green… And browns: blackish deep brown-tinged blue, muted greens… And blacks: red black, blue black, brown black, green black… Interesting materials are everywhere, from Sterling board doors to shelves made from recycled plastic bottles – look closely and you can see flecks of paint.” Grand Designs November 2006, pub. 4 Magazines – ‘Down to earth’, p. 16 – Cobtun

“Glimpsed from underneath the duvet in the guest bedroom, the straw and pebbles that keep the dried mud from cracking too much are disconcerting reminders of what lies beneath the surface of domesticity.” Cobtun ‘Mud, mud, glorious mud’, 14 November 2004, The Observer (Deyan Sudjic)


“To express is to drive. And when you want to give something presence, you have to consult nature. And there is where Design comes in. And if you think of Brick, for instance, and you say to Brick, “What do you want Brick?” And Brick says to you “I like an Arch.” And if you say to Brick “Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintol over you. What do you think of that?” “Brick?” Brick says: “... I like an Arch” Louis Khan,

“The auditorium is a space with all the sense of purpose of a school gymnasium, yet a sense of occasion too. Much of the detail is explained by Russell Johnson’s demanding acoustic specifications – the areas of rough brickwork, using snapped headers, the runs narrow timber galleries, the general insistence on rough surfaces and the great hanging woollen banners, which can be raised or lowered to ‘tune’ the hall.” AJ 17/24.12.98, ‘Musical Box’, p. 33 – CBSO Centre

“There are those that equate simplicity with the sparseness of modernism, with the machine-age aesthetic, stripped of ornament, in which form and detail are reduced to the lowest common denominator of blandness. But simplicity is not the same as unthinking utilitarianism or pragmatism. …compositions that are based on a large degree of repetition tend to exhibit the quality of simplicity… This rhythmic repetition installs a sense of order.” Minimum, John Pawson, p. 10 & 8 pub. Phaidon, 1996

“The entrance is through the central porch and up a flight of stairs. On either side arcading with oak, apple and strawberry designs in the tympana, their very different scales showing that nature is used as a pattern… Pitch-pine dado; mosaic floor by Craven Dunnil in curving patterns of brown, gold, grey and white, with spiral borders … lines of huge pointed iron trusses, each unit with the disc-in-quatrefoil motif familiar from the exterior, here with a central ivy leaf … Associated Architects inserted an ingenious mezzanine here, with a cunningly sited glass access lift.” Pevsner Architectural Guide to Birmingham, Andy Foster, p.71-73 – School of Art. York University Press, 2005



Birmingham Cathedral

“O for a muse of Fire that would ascend The brightest heaven of Invention!” [1] At the heart of Birmingham stands England’s finest and only Baroque cathedral, designed by Thomas Archer in 1709. Birmingham is Baroque.

1 William Shakespeare, Henry V. First performed 1599, first quarto 1600.


Le Corbusier

Moulton Space Frame: Baroque

Modern architects are not always enthusiastic: “I hate this term just as I have never liked, nor looked at, nor been able to admit baroque art” [2], rages Le Corbusier. We like Baroque. We do not mean gratuitous embellishment, arbitrary wilfulness or seventeenth-century ecstatic saints. Not an aesthetic, but an idea. Baroque is many things. Baroque is rich. Baroque is collaborative. Baroque is energetic. Baroque is enjoyable. Baroque is, above all, vigorously, creatively, exuberantly alive!

Baroque is not mundane. In around 1500 the High Renaissance achieved the mastery that artists had been pursuing for hundreds of years. But at that very moment of illusory ‘perfection’, in the school of Raphael’s flawless Madonna-and-child altarpieces, was there not also a certain monotony? Baroque injected new life into arts that were in danger of becoming mundane, debased and moribund through repetition, boredom and overfamiliarity. It did not dismiss the achievements of the Renaissance but added new possibilities, subtleties and twists to enrich the language.

2 Le Corbusier, The Chapel at Ronchamp. The Architectural Press, 1957.

3 Robert Adam, “Dinosaur Modern”. RIBA Journal, May 2008.

Is there a parallel today? In England there is still variety in our building. One might identify Regressive Neo-Classicism, Iconic Landmark Blobbism and Housing Estate Neo-Vernacular among the current architectural biodiversity. But perhaps more surprising is the consensus over Modern as the “dominant architectural ideology” [3]. ‘Default’ mainstream minimal Modern is everywhere. Retail Modern, School Modern, Democratic Civic Public Building Modern, Arts Centre Modern, Business Park Modern, High Street Cappuccino Bar Modern, Urban Apartment Modern etc. We salute good ordinary buildings – but just as in the Renaissance, is there not sometimes a danger of Mundane Modern?

Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool

Stirling’s Engineering Building, Leicester

St Crispins Manor, Northampton

So we hope to do more than just Modern. And by that we do not mean overreaction into shallow or superficial Post-Modernism – we love Berthold Lubetkin’s critique of Chippendale pediments on tower blocks and similar silliness [4]. We embrace the achievements of Modernism, particularly strands flowing from W.R. Lethaby [5] and the “Other Tradition” of humane rather than mechanistic building identified by Sandy Wilson [6]. But we hope to add new possibilities, subtleties and twists to enrich the language. Cecil Collins wrote that “modern architecture … has failed to face up to the challenge of the non-rational in human nature, which is a large and profound field in human experience” [7]. This is precisely where Baroque seeks to engage.

Baroque is English. A rare breed, but with some eminent fans. Kenneth Clarke’s defining work [8] devotes more space to Baroque than to anything else. James Stirling, perhaps the most inventive UK architect of the twentieth century, wrote that “the number of great architects which this country has produced since the Gothic can be counted on the fingers of one hand – Mackintosh, Archer, Hawksmoor, Vanburugh, Inigo Jones, and perhaps Soane.” [9] This select list includes all the architects of English Baroque. If “the history of the English Imagination is the history of adaptation and assimilation” [10], then Baroque is an excellent example. Excess and sixteenth-century Roman Counter-Reformation religious zeal were quietly dropped and a less overblown interpretation of the style imported. Arguably, Wren, English Palladianism and the quintessential English country house bear the same imprint. So Baroque became English.

Baroque is local. Archer was a local man from Umberslade in Warwickshire. He travelled to Italy and studied the great Baroque masters Bernini and Borromini, but he brought the ideas home and made them local. Ackroyd wrote: “The most powerful influence [on the English imagination] can be found in … the territorial imperative, by means of which a local area can influence or guide all who inhabit it. English writers and artists, composers and folk-singers, have been haunted by this sense of place, in which echoic simplicities of past use and past tradition sanctify a certain spot of ground.” [11] If Modern has sometimes been too ubiquitous and international, Baroque is specific and local. For us, a full understanding of the special layers and nuances of place continues to be an essential prerequisite in making architecture [12]. In Birmingham, a blue brick tower responds to a red terracotta one opposite, but it also refers to the hidden blue canal behind. In Northampton, we started with a poem by John Clare, that supreme poet of English birdsong and countryside, who really knew and wrote of that locality: Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun, And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run; Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air; Whoever looks round sees Eternity there. (Autumn) [13]

4 Berthold Lubetkin, RIBA Gold Medal address. RIBA, 1982. 5 WR Lethaby, Architecture, Nature and Magic. Duckworth, 1928. 6 Sir Colin St John Wilson, The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture: The Uncompleted Project. Black Dog Publishing, 2007. 7 Cecil Collins, The Vision of the Fool. Golgonooza Press, 1981.

8 Kenneth Clarke, Civilisation. BBC, 1969. 9 Mark Girouard, Big Jim: The Life and Work of James Stirling. Chatto & Windus, 1998. 10 Peter Ackroyd, Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination. Chatto & Windus, 2002.

11 Ibid. 12 Common Ground, Rules for Local Distinctiveness. Common Ground, 1983. 13 From a group of poems written while Clare was confined in the Northampton County Asylum from 1842 until his death in 1864.


Clockwise from top left: Bromsgrove School Library, Lee Bank Health Centre, Bromsgrove School Art, Design and Technology Building and Loughborough University Concept Visual

The Mailbox

Birmingham School of Acting

Baroque is curvy. Convex and concave curves are particularly Baroque. For us they also need to carry architectural significance. Light, free-form glazing encloses the public areas at a heath centre, contrasting with heavy masonry private consulting rooms. Concave elevations define new circular forecourts. The life drawing and sculpture studios of an art school occupy an appropriately anthropomorphic form. School children spiral through different year groups, gathering in a focal circular assembly hall. A boomerang crowns a natural landform rampart. The marriage of art and technology departments is celebrated in a shared grand piano exhibition space – the union is more than the sum of its parts.

Baroque is unexpected – sometimes breathtakingly audacious. What if we took a huge banal 1960s building and carved a new chic street down the middle, leaping over a reopened canal? What if we assumed the land values at the centre of a failed highrise housing estate were equivalent to town centre prices? What if we took a church behind sad barbed wire fences and made it the centrepiece of a residential square, as the Georgians might have done? Why not a crisp, white girls’ boarding house set among trees?

Baroque is fun. Delight (allied to “firmenes” and “commoditie”) formed the essence of architecture as defined by Vitruvius in 27 BC and hundreds of architectural writers since. A wave ripples down the canal front. Light fittings shaped like fish bones skip down the length of a fish restaurant. Dramatic red for the drama school. A giant bathroom, emphasised by three circular top-lights, dwarfs the user’s naked human frailty below clouds of steam.


King’s School Library lightwells

St Catherine’s Church, Blackwell

Waterhall Gallery stairs below glass floor

Baroque is complex. But Robert Venturi’s polemical book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture is only half right. We love complexity. We hate contradiction. Complexity is layers of meaning, experience, intersecting space, multiplicity, allusion. Life. Baroque. Contradiction is Punch and Judy, oh yes it is, oh no it isn’t, meaninglessness and pompous vacuity. Death. Ultimate Post-Modern Muddle. Venturi rightly identifies “the obligation towards the difficult whole … the difficult unity through inclusion rather than the easy unity through exclusion” [14]. The complexity of Baroque is generated by this obligation; it is not a wilful self-indulgence for its own sake. A frameless glass-ramped bridge, a vertically cantilevered bookcase stair and a free-form plywood librarian’s desk come together in an intense top-lit book-lined light well. A brickwork egg and a white plastered box are linked by a curvy glass wall penetrating an existing historic building.

Baroque is memories, dreams and reflections. This means both history and soul. Seventeenth-century Baroque was not afraid of delving deep to create rich art and architecture that engages with the depths of the human soul and psychology. “The sideshow of Postmodern Neo-Classicism has faded from sight but it has been replaced by its opposite pole – a born-again Expressionism of … sensational ‘one-liners’ that offer [nothing]” [15]. In contrast to the banality of the bizarre, Baroque offers the poetics of the ordinary. A circular Catherine wheel-shaped addition to St Catherine’s church. New offices grow out of the plans of retained listed buildings. Memories of a grand Victorian stair visible descending beneath a new glass floor.

Baroque enriches history. Nothing which is alive in any sense can turn its back on history. None of the creative arts can exist in an existential timeless vacuum. W.R. Lethaby wrote that “the only tradition is change” [16]. Many of our buildings marry tradition and change, old and new. All of the case studies in this book except one work with existing buildings. In the spirit of Pugin’s “fierce and savage gothic” [17], Modern adds a new layer of history at Birmingham School of Art. Cantilevered jewellery boxes give a first glimpse into Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

14 Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966.

15 Sir Colin St John Wilson, op. cit.

16 WR Lethaby, Design and Industry. Duckworth ,1915. 17 John Ruskin, “The Stones of Venice”, 1853; quoted by Joe Holyoak in The Architects’ Journal, 1995.


Interior of the CBSO Centre

Elspeth Dutch, CBSO Principal Horn

Baroque is musical. For many years we have sponsored Elspeth Dutch, the principal horn player at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and accomplished soloist, for example in Benjamin Britten’s ‘Serenade’. When we celebrated our thirtieth birthday we commissioned a new work from Dame Judith Weir, then CBSO composer in residence. Her ‘Free-standing Flexible Structure’ was performed at our CBSO Centre building in 1998 – a musicians’ workshop with raw brickwork and galvanised industrial fittings. Juneau Projects add another twist in our fortieth celebrations.

So, finally, Baroque transforms. The twentieth-century English composer Michael Tippet wrote about an age-old tradition “to create images from the depths of the imagination, and to give them form whether visual, intellectual or musical. … Images of the past, shapes of the future. Images of vigour for a decadent period, images of calm for one too violent. Images of reconciliation for worlds torn by division. And in an age of mediocrity and shattered dreams, images of abounding, generous, exuberant beauty.” [18] It is worth continuing in architectural practice if our buildings can, sometimes, catch a glimmer of that ambition.

18 Michael Tippet, Poets in a Barren Age. Paladin, 1974.



‘Potential energy is defined as the work done against a given force in changing the position of an object with respect to a reference position.’ (Wikipedia)

In an age of globalisation, which has seen the big boys in charge, issues of identity are extensive – questioning your place in the immediate and wider contexts of family, community, region, culture, country and faith. People are beginning to vote with their feet and channel their collective spending power towards local rather than global suppliers. Will this result in a paradigm shift towards a more community based, people-centric state? Will we look to the man in the street to lead change?

We are already seeing a greater desire – and demand – for consultation and collaboration by users who understand the importance of being involved in the design process. This creates a sense of ownership over, and therefore respect towards, the finished product. Maybe people are subconsciously responding to the bleak terrains and placelessness often found in those developments created by faceless corporations, and are instead looking to ensure that some of the local character and identify is embodied in the building. Are we finally leaving the ‘icon’ behind? Are we instead looking to raise the quality and value of our built environment as a whole, rather than relying on the retail model of the anchor among a sea of mediocrity?

Wim Wenders in the film Notebook on Cities and Clothes describes how garments designed by Yohji Yamamoto make him feel “himself”, enhancing his sense of identity, because they feel both new and familiar. The film goes on to show Yamamoto turning the pages of a book called Men in the Twentieth Century in search of inspiration. He explains that he is affected by the faces of the people in the photographs as much as by the fabric of their costumes, and it is this image he holds in his head while he cuts and shapes the lines of his garments – captivated by the quest for character.

When we were discussing this book we spent a lot of time debating the message that we wanted to portray – our sense of identity and place. We don’t have a defined style, instead we have a process that ensures every project is approached, analysed, developed and ultimately designed in response to its individuality. We do not seek to produce big statement architecture, but instead aspire to exceed the expectations of the “good ordinary” – a phrase coined by Paul Finch in describing the anti-hero to the “landmark” (where the landmark is a hero who sensitively responds to the urban grain, acknowledging rather than denying history).

What are the changing positions of the next forty years? Collectively our potential energy is huge, but it needs to be channelled in the right direction.

Good design feels both new and familiar.


The best buildings come from strong working relationships with committed clients and creative consultants who understand the transformational power of architecture – and the importance of sustainability… (

Conserving energy is implicit within all our design work, but maintaining one’s own energy to fulfil each brief is more complicated. What motivates us to keep returning to the complicated problem, the difficult detail or the awkward site – not to mention the mountain of paperwork? For us, it is about the creation of an atmosphere that affects the other members of the team – to invite, develop, enrich and inform our working practice. This energy is something that is contained within the ebb and flow of the process, and becomes embodied in the building. It is this collaborative energy that lifts us up when we are down, and points us in the right direction when we are lost.

A key consideration when thinking about sustainability is that of longevity: a building’s ability to survive – both functionally and aesthetically. In recent years a built-in ability to respond, adapt and be flexible has become inherent in briefs, especially within the education sector. Schools, colleges and universities have seen significant shifts in teaching trends and learning environments, not to mention the everincreasing impact of technology. Recent projects at the University of Birmingham (Muirhead) and the David Wilson Library at the University of Leicester demonstrate how well-designed, considered buildings can be adapted and reinvented for another lifetime.

Our approach values context and place alongside sustainability – but sustainability in its widest sense. We have led the sustainability debate in the Midlands for the past twenty or so years. Our aim is not just to incorporate ‘add-ons’, but to maximise the potential of each brief and site, taking advantage of all it has to offer to formulate a coherent, specific solution.

Buildings are often perceived as being redundant because they were designed in response to a specific function or practice that is no longer in favour. Often the response to this scenario has been to start again or to change the use completely – and so warehouses become offices, and offices become apartments, and apartments become …?


Will the word “office” be obsolete in forty years’ time? Herman Miller recently presented their research on workplaces of the future, offering their responses to three dystopian scenarios set out by the Government’s Foresight programme on Intelligent Infrastructure Systems. Each one painted a picture of a future that has had to make tough decisions about climate change and the impact our lifestyles have on the environment. In a world of technological and scientific advancements, the office became a machine for working, with its environmental controls fine tuned to maximise the productivity and efficiency of the individual. An alternative path involved the taxation of individuals based on their levels of consumption – including travel. This restriction on movement concentrated activities in urban centres, and the blurring of the boundaries between work, rest and play meant that every space became an office. The third future evolved from a collective taxation of consumption and relied on people working together to maximise the resources available. This model had employees living within ten miles of their office but actually being part of a much more widespread team connected by technology, so the office is both physical and virtual.


The spatial response to each scenario could be accommodated within existing spaces and buildings, modified to reflect the changing needs of the workforce, but equally it could result in a new and exciting typology. RUDI, the Resource for Urban Design Information, supports the approach of refurbishment rather than rebuild as a means of meeting our energy targets. It argues that this preserves the “identities of communities which is a key element in placemaking”. What RUDI seems to be suggesting is that new design destroys identity and place, but we would argue that good design reinforces the sense of place, being both new and familiar. “We do not think of buildings as ready solutions to immediate problems or expendable containers of short-term processes. Many buildings outlast their initial function, and most long outlive their original clients… and, more mysteriously, certain structures endure beyond their physical destruction as lasting images in the collective memory. We like to think of our buildings as reservoirs of embedded energy.” (John Tuomey, Architecture, Craft and Culture)

So what does this mean for the next forty years? Maintaining the energy to continue to see the potential is critical – exploring the potential of a wide range of problems to produce exciting and creative solutions. Designing quiet buildings which respond to their context, those which embody a level of craft and quality – those that can evolve and transform without destroying their integrity. This potential makes them truly sustainable.

Case Studies

A Good Idea is Always a Good Idea Back in the mid 1990s, as the practice’s projects continued to increase in scale, we saw an opportunity to move into designing commercial offices. This was in part a reaction to the poor examples constructed up to that point, but also because we saw in them an opportunity to apply our architectural intelligence. We had always felt that offices were only buildings, and as we were good at designing buildings, designing offices should be straightforward. The word ‘straightforward’ is relevant to this story in several ways. All we needed was the opportunity to demonstrate this approach. In 1996 we were approached by a pension fund looking for a way to unlock a tricky site on Edmund Street, in the traditional business core of Birmingham. The site was notable for several reasons: it was occupied by two vacant Grade 2 listed buildings; it stretched from Edmund Street back to Cornwall Street, with a storey-height change of level downwards; it was bounded by 30m-high party walls on either side, which would negate any windows; and an abandoned road-widening scheme had left the two listed buildings standing proud of their less worthy modern neighbours. Our response to the constraints of the site was straightforward and in our mind entirely logical. What was paramount was bringing as much natural light into the building as possible. This meant pushing the inevitable core – containing lifts and toilets – into the middle of the site hard against one of the party walls to allow the creation of a central atrium. We had great fun working through many options for the most efficient core layouts and came up with what was, in our eyes at least, a very un-Birmingham office design. Not surprisingly we got nowhere with it, which of course we rationalised as ‘We were ahead of the game’.


Ground floor plan

Plan behind listed buildings

Upper level plan

Through being in the right place at the right time, as well as an awardwinning practice, we were lucky enough to design Nine Brindleyplace – the first true mixed-use building on the Brindleyplace estate. Though we didn’t know too much about office design, we threw ourselves into the process, bluffed well and learnt quickly. Having done so, we were keen to apply this experience to other office projects in the city centre and were subsequently commissioned by Scottish Widows to design Snowhill House and Interchange Place, in Livery Street and Edmund Street respectively. Then in 2001 the site at 134 Edmund Street came back to us. The site had changed hands several times in the five years since we had last looked at it and was now in the hands of a local development team. We were asked to present our design approach for the site at interview, and spent some time looking for the drawings from the previous submission – without success. We simply restated the drivers that had shaped our previous scheme through a series of diagrams and applied them to an updated scheme proposal – with success. We won the job. While the plan form of the proposed building was virtually fixed from the start of the commission, we had yet to define the external and internal aesthetics for the new building. The starting point for this process was the careful analysis of the existing listed buildings and their setting within the modified streetscape.


Final Elevation Concepts 1, 2 and Final

Streetscape Review and Cantilever Box Concept Sketch

Establishing the building line and the materiality of the new elevation behind the listed buildings was the first task. In order to align the new elevation with the modern building line we had to demolish the majority of the listed buildings. Agreement to do this was obtained through careful negotiation with English Heritage. The major rooms within the listed buildings were retained in their entirety to a depth of 6m and linked to the new open-plan offices by bridges across a separating atrium. Options for dramatic new elements projecting out above the listed buildings, to increase the visibility of the building when viewed obliquely, were also tabled and ameliorated through the dialogue with English Heritage, although this idea was retained more fully on the Cornwall Street elevation.

Concept Diagrams

The composition of the new elevation was influenced by the distinct characters of the two listed buildings, forming a vertical division line within the Edmund Street frontage. The new building has an elevational treatment that reflects this, with a different treatment of glazed curtain walling on each half, which contrasts with and is subservient to the masonry elevations of the listed buildings. This composition also reflects the new building’s organisation in plan, where the entrance resolves itself at the core behind the left-hand listed building. This building had had an inappropriate modern shopfront inserted at the ground floor level, which we were able to remove to accommodate the new building entrance. New piers were constructed in brick and terracotta to match the newly cleaned existing masonry, allowing the building to ‘stand on it’s own two legs’ again. The experience of fabric cleaning and repair works we gained at the School of Art was invaluable in helping us to guide a design and build contractor through the process of chemically cleaning the existing brickwork and terracotta and procuring new terracotta units. The quality of the restored appearance of the listed buildings was always going to be a hugely important component in the success of the finished project.


The Cornwall Street elevation, which faces into New Market Street, wasn’t treated as a back to the building, as had been the approach taken with other buildings. The building’s dramatic north elevation looks out across the Jewellery Quarter, and is a new landmark for visitors arriving by car from the inner ring road. The concept that shaped the internal organisation and detailing of 134 Edmund Street was the notion of enjoying the journey from the front door to the desk. This led to a range of spatial experiences through the building’s two atria, glass lifts and high-quality and unusual finishes and detailing. Commercially 134 Edmund Street was a huge success, being quickly fully let and sold. The occupiers that we spoke to loved the contrast between the old and the new architecture, and felt it projected an image of old-fashioned values combined with modern effectiveness. It also demonstrated to the Birmingham office market that an intrinsically difficult site could be unlocked by ingenuity and vision.


Alles Klar The School of Jewellery was established in 1890 in Vittoria Street in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham. The quarter is the main manufacturing centre for jewellery and silversmithing in the UK, and although secretive by virtue of its trade, it has always been one of the city’s hidden gems. Historically significant, its unique development in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a place of manufacture and of ‘living over the shop’ was recorded by English Heritage’s building study of 2002. The School of Jewellery was created as a branch school of the Municipal School of Arts and Crafts located at Margaret Street. With the aspiration of improving the quality of design within the trade, it was established in a former goldsmith’s works converted by Chamberlain and Martin. As the school grew, so did the building, with a top-floor extension and then a completely new annexe added in 1911 in an Edwardian industrial style. Despite a near miss during wartime bombing by the Luftwaffe, the school continued to flourish, until eventually it could no longer accommodate all of its students at Vittoria Street and silversmithing was relocated to the university’s Gosta Green campus. As at Margaret Street, building ownership passed to Birmingham City University, along with a legacy of poor maintenance, and student dissatisfaction caused by the split-site arrangement and outmoded teaching accommodation. Cellular internal arrangement and differing floor levels in the existing buildings separated the jewellery disciplines into discrete workshops which had no visual connection and were wholly unwelcoming. Dirty and dangerous activities were undertaken within specific craft workshops and the process of design and drawing was relegated to the north-lit workshop of the former goldsmith’s factory. Students had to move between these spaces to complete the component parts of their design work. The segregation critically limited the sharing of ideas and experiences between students of different disciplines yet all engaged in design and making.


Organisational Concept Plan

When an adjoining site became available the university took the opportunity to expand on the site and bring silversmithing back from Gosta Green. The new school was to develop the links between traditional craft skills, modern technology and design, and to encourage participation with the trade and the wider community. The project was highly significant for us, not only as an early university project but also as a landmark building in the Jewellery Quarter, which had been the practice’s home since 1976. The leadership and commitment of Gerald Whiles the Head of School, was instrumental to the success of the project – his encouragement of the contractor, Christiani & Nielsen, during the construction phase became legendary. From the outset his aspiration was to create studio spaces where students could both design and make, with direct access to process workshops for heat and chemical treatment and controlled access to the more dangerous processes, such as electroplating and casting. Visits to the most recent European schools of jewellery, at Schwäbisch Gmünd and Pfortzheim in Germany, were helpful, but demonstrated that this concept had not been put into practice elsewhere. These issues were allied with the sensitive challenge of retaining and adapting the existing listed buildings. The scheme would require new building to meet the aspirations of the university, but it would also have to satisfy the conservative conservation team in the planning department. We made a bold proposition: rather than adapt the entire 1911 annexe, we promoted the demolition of its rear half to make space for the insertion of a longitudinal atrium to create a dramatic heart in the new school. This would link the listed buildings with the new building, bringing daylight deep into the plan. Using cantilevered walkways and bridges, the atrium would become the means of circulation and a generator of lively activity. The clarity of this approach was welcomed by all the parties.


The new building links the various processes of design and manufacture. By developing communal process workshops on each floor for heat and chemical treatment, the concept of studio workshops was introduced – where both designing (at desks) and making (at benches) can take place. The sharing of the process workshops and the use of glazed partitions encourages interaction between students and blurs the distinctions between the traditional craft skills. The studio workshops are grouped at one end of the atrium and repeated at the three principal levels, with the corresponding spaces in the basement being used for the more dangerous and restricted processes of casting and electroplating. The silversmithing studios are also housed in the basement to contain the noise generated by students beating life into metal. The simple spatial arrangement is echoed in a rational treatment of structure and materials, the whole resolved under an animated steel-and-glass roof. Set aside from the accommodation around the atrium, a further wing containing a restaurant, lecture theatre and seminar rooms was inserted. The process workshops are stacked vertically to control the impact of their high level of services. This allows the adjoining studio workshops to be naturally lit and to be ventilated by using the stack effect within the atrium. Raised access floors distribute power, data, gas and compressed air to all parts of the building. All of the furniture within the building was purpose designed – from the jewellery benches to the lecture theatre seating – through a collaboration between Associated Architects, BCU School of Furniture, Hostess Furniture and Bill Emmerich, the beech specialist. The palette of materials for the project was deliberately restrained, but there was room for indulgence in the design of the atrium balustrade, which reflects the fine craft detail in metal that is so evident in the students’ work.


The Victorian building was retained in its original form to provide staff accommodation together with specialist small-scale facilities for gemmology and horology. The 1911 annexe was in poor condition because of the nearby bombing, with a ground floor set above street level, which obscured views in. It had not replaced the original entrance to the school, but as the central element of the enlarged Vittoria Street frontage it now took on new significance. We formed a new entrance here, stepping the floor down to street level and removing the spandrel panels to form a fully glazed double-height entrance space. The new elevation to Vittoria Street was designed to reflect the scale and composition of the Victorian building, balancing the composition around the 1911 annexe. Brick piers and fenestration develop the Edwardian themes of the 1911 annexe, giving expression to the three stages of the school’s history. Clear views into the building link the studio and atrium activities to the street and are unique in the quarter. It is rare to return to a completed building after a period of time and not to find accretions of signs, altered colour schemes and the ravages of wear and tear. However, after 14 years’ occupation the opposite is true and the building appears as it did when it opened: a source of pride both for us and for the university.

Awards RIBA Award 1995, Civic Trust Award 1996 Publications The Architects’ Journal, 23 March 1995


Richness: Case Study

Humour, Mystery, Fantasy, Ecological, Sustainable, Independent, Contextual, Agricultural, Invisible This was the brief set by Nicholas Worsley for a private house commission. Nicholas was a long-standing client of the practice: we had refurbished barristers’ chambers for him at Fountain Court, Birmingham, and undertaken alterations to his Georgian town house in Worcester. The Worsleys needed to move to a single-storey house as Anna Worsley was shortly to be confined to a wheelchair. Private houses have always formed part of the practice’s work, and indeed it was a private house that earned the practice its first RIBA award – Pleck Orchard, in 1982. They are always interesting projects and have particular tensions for an architect: part manna from heaven, part minefield. The site, located on the edge of the residential area of Northwick, was a very special one. Lying within the Worcester Local Plan Green Network and Riverside Conservation Area, it falls gently down to the River Severn, but always above the flood level. The city council was determined that consent would only be granted for a very special dwelling, having already refused a previous application for the site. The idea of an ‘invisible’ or understated approach might be thought of as particularly English. A hundred years ago in Das Englische Haus, Herman Muthesius observed: “The English country-house does not obtrude upon the gaze of the passer-by. It almost always lies hidden behind high walls or dense shrubbery and a person who knows the country well will only be made aware of its existence by an entirely inconspicuous entrance gate … But he who penetrates into [its] preserves responds the more overwhelming to … a perfect, secluded world of its own, a little paradise on earth.”


This was the guiding strategy for the organisation of Cobtun; a house sheltering in the lee and privacy of a protective wall that extends out into the landscape beyond. It has similarities in this sense with the Walled Garden house at Brockhampton, which won the practice an RIBA Award in 1990. The house is approached along a quiet unmade road. An encircling massive earth cob wall, which appears to crumble or decay at its southern end, encloses the site beyond. An orchard is visible over the lower part. Following the wall round to the north and east, where it is pierced only by a small opening framing a glimpse of the walled garden, an entrance leads at last through the massive wall to the front door and the circular top-lit hall beyond. The huge wall continues past the entrance and forms the north side of the house, then terminates looking west over the Severn valley. On the end of the wall, without reference to the client or the architects, the cob specialist delightfully incorporated the face of a Green Man to enjoy the view. The geometry of the house behind the wall responds to its context, opening out in wings to the west and the south, containing open-plan living spaces and bedrooms respectively, and enclosing a west terrace. A view to the spire of Hallow church, a kilometre away across the river on the western skyline, is the focus of the dining area. The living spaces are fully glazed to maximise passive solar gains and look straight out onto the west terrace. The south bedroom wing helps to shelter and enclose this semi-courtyard space, the splay in plan helping low sun to penetrate. An additional semi-independent bedroom for a guest or carer adjoins the cob wall to the east, along with a range of other outbuildings. The study opens up to the south-east, where reflected morning sunlight from the pool dances on the ceiling.


An angled south-facing roof light provides further sunlight and extract ventilation over the kitchen; its form is extended to provide a mounting for solar panels. A similar north-inclined roof light provides an extended vertical wall surface in the living room for hanging a particularly tall Victor Pasmore. The giant scale of the 4m-tall master bathroom, emphasised by three circular top lights, dwarfs the user’s naked human frailty below clouds of steam. This bathroom and the living room chimney stack manifest externally as two solid vertical volumes rendered using sand from the site, while the remainder of the house is constructed in local horizontally boarded oak and glass. The cob wall was constructed using a mixture of site soil and locally sourced clay, with straw acting as the binding ingredient. The wall, approximately 750mm thick, is self-supporting and is built on a plinth of stone sourced from the nearby Forest of Dean quarry. Oak lintels over the openings and a coping to throw the water away from the base complete the wall construction. Energy conservation measures include solar panels to assist with the hot-water supply and southerly facing insulated glazing seasonally shaded by vines. Recycled rainwater is used for washing clothes, providing water for the WC cisterns and for watering the garden during dry months. The design acknowledges influences from the English freestyle tradition and the humane (rather than technological) Modern Movement, with roots including Pugin, Webb and Lethaby. Considerations of local context, sun, views, light, function, distinctive needs and the quality of materials were all important. It is a personal, individual and specific building, not a prototype for large-scale housing.


It seems to us that when sustainability meets architecture the result is of real interest. Without good design, sustainability can become worthy but dull; while an architecture without environmental understanding can be beautiful and award-winning, but ultimately irresponsible. Together, however, they make a powerful combination, as advocated in W.R. Lethaby’s last piece of writing, Architecture, Nature and Magic. Nicholas Worsley’s succinct brief certainly had the air of a magic spell. Cobtun won the national RIBA Sustainability Award in 2005, and Deyan Sudjic wrote that “it’s as much an advertisement for the pleasure to be had in building … as a manifesto for sustainability.” Within the context of a workload dominated by larger schemes, both in our own office and beyond, this building is a reminder of the need for special places, particularity and uniqueness in the making of architecture.

Awards RIBA Sustainability Award 2005 RIBA Architecture Award 2005 Worcester City Design Award 2003 Publications Rough Guide to Sustainability, Brian Edawrds RIBA 2005 The Architects journal, November 2004 The Observer, November 2004 BBC Online, December 2003


Does it Have to be Red? RAL 3001 Sounds Better Peter Freeman of Argent employed us at Brindleyplace because he recognised that we liked to work with strong concepts: “the thing about you guys is you always have a big idea”. We were to test this on an heroic scale on Birmingham’s biggest existing building. Mailbox was quite the largest design we had ever faced and was unprecedented in both scale and mix of uses. The redundant Royal Mail Parcel and Letter Sorting Office had been acquired by Alan Chatham and Mark Billingham. We had already worked with Alan when he was Argent’s director on Nine Brindleyplace, the first mixed-use building on the estate and where we developed new ideas on the typology. Mark, a partner at Grimley, was the investment surveyor. There were no fixed ideas, but there was an ambition to create an extraordinary mixed-use scheme that would regenerate this area of the city. We looked worldwide for examples, but it soon became clear that we would have to develop our own precedents.


We didn’t write a brief, but embarked on an eight-week feasibility study to define how the building could be redeveloped. This was reviewed every Friday morning with the project team – comprising client, consultants and external stakeholders, including Birmingham City Council – allowing us to make rapid progress with the design. While there are many ideas at play in the final scheme, the masterstroke of cutting a street through the building emerged quickly, the aim being to make Mailbox a route from the city centre to the canal network rather than a destination in itself. The street was to be open to the sky and in use 24 hours a day, and at 12m wide it was designed to reflect the scale of local streets in the city core. It received enthusiastic support from the local authority due to the clear benefits for city permeability. The site spans a large change in level – the street rises a total of 18m. The level changes occur at controlled points, which define static areas in the plan for the principal entrances, developing a clear hierarchy and giving the different users a sense of place within the whole. This street is now called Wharfside Street and has its own postcodes – place-making by the Royal Mail! The site is close to New Street Station, but it was not on a recognised pedestrian route. The linkages were therefore vitally important and made the subject of two public art commissions: Mark Pimlott designed a lighting installation under the previously unloved space below the flyover carrying the Queensway inner ring road, and Thomas Heatherwick created a network of coloured lines set into the pavement from the station to Mailbox Square. Tom likened his idea to a printed circuit board, which he produced theatrically from a purple velvet lined mahogany box at his presentation. We also considered the lighting of the building to be an important component of these interventions.

The building was remarkably robust, with a 12m × 12m column grid, 6.2m floor-to-floor height and a large floor loading capacity, which gave us unparalleled flexibility. Although massively built, it sat with its base below the ring road and wasn’t dominating, being built into the hill. We exploited the opportunity to promote different uses one above the other, the first time this had been attempted on this scale. Two levels of retail space enliven the pedestrian route, arranged so that one level is at the entrance square and the other coincident with Severn Street and linked by escalators. At the higher level the street runs under the offices and out onto the canal at the south-west, where restaurants are placed to take advantage of the views and sunlight. A development of restaurants, bars and a hotel was undertaken concurrently by the same team at Salvage Wharf, enabling walkways and a bridge across the canal to be provided. An historic canal basin was exposed and refilled, extending the water frontage. In its final form the scheme provides 100,000m2 of space, with a hotel, restaurants and bars, shops, offices, TV studios, 200 roof-level apartments and parking for 1,000 cars. The technical issues were tremendously complex, including a fire strategy that would allow the different users to share escapes, the first time this had been attempted in the UK. New strategies for circulation were planned, providing all users with service access separated from the public areas, and 20 new passenger lifts were inserted. The shell proved to be flexible in all respects, exemplifying Alex Gordon’s three principles: ‘long life, loose fit, low energy’. We used these as a benchmark for our own alterations, including the addition of a cooling main serving the entire development using water from the adjacent canal.


Large sections of the external envelope were retained largely as found, with new glazing and metal panels inserted into the horizontal concrete cladding: we sought to retain a sense of the building’s industrial history. In Mailbox Square the building faces out towards the city centre and we wanted to make a grand gesture to signal the development in the wider urban landscape: a challenge to a practice rooted in context and respect for urban grain. We wanted an elevational composition that reflected both the layering of uses behind the elevation and the portal to Wharfside Street and which also gave an appropriate sense of scale and gravitas. This was achieved with an 18m-high stone base either side of the new Wharfside Street, surmounted by a red rendered element with glazing above the portal, and a final glazed and metal clerestory: pillar-box as grand palazzo. The actual process of choosing red as the colour has it’s own folklore! Within Wharfside Street the elevations are deliberately smaller in scale, breaking down the grid to 6m and with a finer level of architectural detail. Stonework is used for the base, with red terracotta piers defining a twostorey colonnade.


Mailbox embodies the unique relationship we enjoyed with our client. Having resigned from their previous positions to undertake the project, Mark and Alan’s time was devoted exclusively to the work. They spent long periods of time in our office, sketching and exploring ideas with us, even making their own models. We built two offices for them during the course of design and construction, one in the Parcel and Letter Sorting Office shell and one in an adjacent building at Washington Wharf. Our project associate relocated from our office to work alongside them for nine months while the project team was assembled to work on the site. As a result, at all stages the project was designed and delivered at a rapid pace: the building was acquired in April 1998 and Mailbox opened for business in December 2000. As envisaged, the development acted as the catalyst for regeneration of the entire city quarter and is now a vibrant place to live, work and play.

Awards Civic Trust Award 2003 British Council for Offices Award 2003 Birmingham Design Initiative Award 2002 CABE High Quality Architecture Citation 2002 BURA Award for Waterways Renaissance 2002 Birmingham Civic Society Award 2001 Estates Gazette Architecture Award 2001 Birmingham Civic Society Award 2001 Publications The Architects’ Journal, 10 May 2001 CABE citation Buildings that Feel Good, Ziona Strelitz, RIBA Publishing (2008)


A Brickwork Egg The practice has enjoyed long relationships with several independent schools, having started working in the sector in the mid 1980s. School campus masterplans were prepared for Dean Close School in Cheltenham, Bromsgrove School, and The King’s School, Worcester, followed by the design of a series of buildings in accordance with these masterplans. This has always been stimulating work due to the varied building types required, ranging from libraries, art schools and dining halls through to more complex buildings such as theatres. Queen Margaret’s School for girls occupies Escrick Hall, a substantial listed country house and attendant outbuildings at the edge of the village of Escrick, five miles to the south of York. Escrick Hall was the historical seat of the Wenlock family, who commissioned the 1758 Palladian country house, the fine stable block by John Carr of York and the subsequent extensions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There is direct access from the village’s main street to the hall’s outbuildings and a formal axial access drive from nearby York Road. The hall was leased to Queen Margaret’s School in 1948. By the late 1990s the school had outgrown its existing chapel, a mean 1950s building inserted into the network of outbuildings at the rear of the hall. To mark the school’s centenary the governors wanted to replace the old chapel with a new multifunctional space, which could be used not only as a chapel and assembly hall, but also for dance, music and drama. Due to the constraints of the existing building layout the same site had to be reused and a diagrammatic scheme was prepared accordingly.


Site Plan

As result of our track record in the sector we were invited to enter a limited design competition along with three other practices. This we won with a proposal to turn the axis of the proposed building through 90 degrees, allowing the new building’s footprint to be effectively doubled in area. The multifunctionality aspect of the brief was a concern to us, based on our previous experience of other such aspirational spaces, and we advised that this would require significant compromises in acoustics, seating and functionality, which the school recognised. We agreed a revised brief to provide two separate complementary spaces, one for music and chapel and the other for speech and theatre, each with its own particular character. The varying uses of the spaces meant they required access by different groups people and from a number of directions. A direct covered link from the hall was essential for staff and pupils but would have to negotiate various level changes, while access from the remote car parks located adjacent to the village was required for parents and other visitors. Resolution of these vital links drove the organisational thinking for the scheme. By using a double-height foyer common to both spaces, it was possible to provide bridge access from the hall to the upper level and access at grade through the ground floor storey of the existing Mill Block. This much-altered part of the hall, previously the servants’ wing, effectively blocked the route to the new building from the car parks. Sympathetic repairs and the cutting of new openings created a ground floor undercoft with toilets that leads through into the foyer. This unheated buffer space has a fully glazed wavy wall facing out into a new Shakespearian garden, which signifies the building’s function for the performing arts.


Ground Floor Plan

The concept of differentiating the two spaces to reflect their varying functions was established from the very start of the design process. These spaces became know as the ‘shoebox’ and the ‘egg’. The shoebox contains the music and chapel space and occupies the same footprint as the original chapel – a classic rectangular volume required for a music performance. A gallery was incorporated at one end so that the space is able to seat 500; at the other, a dais doubles as stage and chancel, with a full-height oak-slatted organ casing behind. The space also has a dramatic laminated-timber diagonal-grid roof structure. In contrast the new speech and theatre space was conceived as a freer form. Our admiration for the Almeida Theatre in London, originally a nineteenth-century literary and scientific institute, gave us the starting point for designing the egg. The Almeida, with its large curved rear wall, has a great reputation with performers as an intimate performance space. The egg’s tapering shape captures this feeling of intimacy – it also gives the space a false perspective, which makes the stage feel unexpectedly closer to the audience. Galleries wrap around on three levels to give a satisfying focus to the space. The theatre was designed to allow maximum flexibility, including theatre in the round, thrust and traditional proscenium productions. The egg was built over the remains of the school’s small swimming pool, which was retanked to keep water out – rather than in. The pool is now filled with cool incoming air from ground pipes. This system, which is central to the low energy design, provides regular air displacement through low-level air entry and discharge via roof-mounted cupolas in both the main spaces. The auditoria can also be purged at intervals by engaging axial fans. Externally the cupolas are of a scale and proportion similar to those on John Carr’s stables.


Section through egg

Materials were derived from the hall’s outbuildings – bricks and metal roofing. The bricks were carefully chosen to blend in with existing buildings, and the metal standing-seam roofing alludes to traditional lead roofs. The dynamic wavy wall is formed using structural glazing to promote transparency into and out of the foyer spaces. The scheme won a Brick Development Association design award in 2002 for its use of structural brickwork. The brickwork diaphragm walls used for the egg-shaped theatre walls particularly impressed the judges. These were built in header bond with fine 8mm joints, fair-faced both internally and externally. Flat brickwork arches are used over openings. Lime mortar was used to allow added movement and avoid the need for expansion joints.

A new forecourt, with pleached limes and tapering steps, was formed between a nineteenth-century building and the lovely John Carr stable block. External balconies off the foyer and theatre look out over formal gardens to the parkland with its Lebanon cedars. An external amphitheatre performance space and associated planting address the resolution of the changes in ground level, dovetailing the new development into the existing mature parkland setting of Escrick Hall. We enjoyed working with the school on this project, and they were receptive even to our more radical ideas. The interior of the egg is a space of particular quality, and always feels ripe for a performance of Henry V: “may we cram within this wooden [or brickwork] ‘O’ / The very casques that did afright the air at Agincourt.”

The hollow central cores of the massive brick diaphragm walls are used as air destratification ducts. Other low-energy considerations shaped the design, including high insulation values and low environmental impact materials.

Awards National Built in Quality Award 2004 RIBA White Rose Award 2004 Brick Development Association Award 2002


The Secret Diary of a Library Aged 34 The University of Leicester has had an important place in the hearts and minds of British architects since Stirling and Gowan’s Engineering Building was completed in 1963 – the same year that the university won the first ever series of University Challenge. Featured on a 7 pence stamp, this landmark building suggested the birth of a subtle British modernism, which sadly failed to materialise. The site for the university, on the edge of Leicester’s city centre, was donated by a local textile manufacturer, Thomas Fielding Johnson, and was formerly the Leicestershire and Rutland Lunatic Asylum. The university expanded rapidly in the 1960s, building striking modern buildings such as the Engineering Building and Attenborough Tower. The university library also gained critical acclaim when it opened in 1974. While pioneering in its approach to energy use and innovative by integrating services within its concrete structure, it was typical of university library design of the period in being a closed, environmentally controlled box with minimal natural light penetration. The library had been envisaged as being the heart of the expanding campus, with its own library square in front of it. The elevational treatment of black curtain walling with limited opportunities to view in or out coupled with 40m × 40m plan spaces inside resulted in the building being an unloved place. An identical extension was planned to double its size, but was not built.


Site Plan Analysis

Concept Perspective

In 2004 the university announced an expansion and refurbishment project to modernise and extend the library to ensure it would remain competitive with other top universities and attract and retain the best staff and students. This project would form the centrepiece of the university’s £300 million development plan. University staff had visited the best libraries in the UK, Europe and the USA to gather information, from which they compiled a detailed set of requirements. This became the basis of a limited competition brief issued in 2004. We were fortunate enough to be selected to enter the competition. Our approach was both poetic and pragmatic; we focused not only on our big idea for a new library full of natural light and fresh air, but also on project delivery in terms of buildability, cost and programme. Significantly, we had assembled around us a professional team which had just collectively delivered a large health library for Birmingham City University. In April 2004 we embarked upon a four-year commission to rebuild the library. The first issue to resolve was that of shelving. The university needed to accommodate one million books within the new library, a quantity that would require 38 kilometres of shelving! The university’s original vision for the extension of the library was predicated upon the demolition of a significant portion of the adjacent Grade II listed former lunatic asylum to provide a site big enough to accommodate a building containing this number of books. While this draconian approach to historic buildings may have been acceptable in the 1970s, we practise in very different times. We were also acutely conscious of the close proximity of the library to the iconic Engineering Building.


Axonometric Floor Space Planning Diagram

Our immediate reaction was that the demolition strategy was wrong. We embarked upon extensive consultation with English Heritage and the local planning authority to ensure all options were identified, tabled and analysed, with the impact of any redevelopment option being considered holistically. Three new options were identified: the retention of the existing library and the addition of a new, higher building behind; the complete demolition of the existing library and construction of a new building; and the improvement of the existing library and integration with a new extension. This final option was quickly identified as the best option. It would require the construction of basement accommodation, the selective demolition of non-original extensions to the listed building behind and the use of compact shelving systems in the completed library. Our big idea had always been for a library full of daylight and fresh air. This was achieved through the creation by four atria spaces linked by an internal multi level street, providing an intuitive plan enabling students to navigate the library easily. Noise breakout to study spaces is controlled by book stacks and enclosed study rooms positioned between circulation spaces and readers. This simple linear arrangement is crossed by a ‘servant spine’ providing support uses at the heart of the building for staff and students. The spine was located at the junction between new and old to assist with phasing. Being an essential resource base for students, the library had to remain operational throughout the construction period. Delivery of the project with minimal disruption was therefore critical and the proposed plan had to respond to this from day one. Computer Generated Atrium Visual


Through discussion with the university we were able to extend the front of the library out into the library square. A new fully glazed façade acts as a solar buffer, and provides a completely new image for the library: a transparent box of learning. The new glass frontage was carefully aligned with the vertical face of the workshop element of the Engineering Building beyond. To enhance the library’s new image and to revitalise the social use of the library, a café and bookshop were provided on either side of the street, facing out onto the library square. Both we and the university were determined that the new library should be a showcase for sustainable design. A bespoke BREEAM assessment was therefore commissioned, with the absolute requirement to achieve an ‘Excellent’ rating. The internal environmental performance criteria specified in the university’s new brief were quite relaxed, based on a pragmatic understanding about the time books spend at student digs rather than in the library. There was a need to have close environmental control in some areas – those housing rare volumes and special collections, including the original Sue Townsend manuscripts for Adrian Mole – but these were restricted to comparatively small areas within the new basement. Natural ventilation and daylight could therefore be at the heart of the new library design from the start. Exposed concrete structures, both new and pre-existing, provide high thermal mass to moderate the internal environment, and an ‘intelligent’ highly glazed façade allows night-time purging. This underlined the seismic shift in priorities, the focus being turned towards the library users, ‘the customer’, and away from an overbearing concern for environmental conditions for printed material. This approach had other benefits, achieving the client’s aspirations to make the library legible from the outside and allowing views out across the campus and Victoria Park. A significant grant funded the installation of various types of photovoltaic cells into the ‘intelligent’ façade for research purposes.

In April 2008, to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the university, the new library opened complete with its café and bookshop. The 1970s library square, programmed for renewal as part of the university’s development plan, is now populated for the first time by students enjoying a break from research. The new library was always planned to be more than just a library. It now contains 1,500 reader places of all types, including a dedicated postgraduate area, as well as IT training and group study rooms, a student development zone incorporating the Student Learning Centre and the Careers Service, a 500-seat lecture theatre and seminar rooms, an AccessAbility Centre, the Special Collections Archive and those 38 kilometres of shelving, allowing 20 years’ growth in the printed collections. The university now has an inspirational place of learning, a working environment to be proud of and a library that is sustainable, multifunctional and has a greater concern for the comfort of the user than of the books. “It is light and fresh, the old library was noisy and hot. It’s a shame my degree ends this year, so I’m not going to be able to use it that much.” There is also a new name following a £2 million donation, the David Wilson Library. After 34 years the library is finally the heart of the university.

Award RIBA East Midlands Award 2008


Fierceness and Ghosts The School of Art, or ‘Margaret Street’ as it more affectionately referred to, is without question the finest late Victorian building in Birmingham. John Henry Chamberlain’s Birmingham Municipal School of Arts and Crafts has been in continuous use since opening in 1885, passing into the hands of Birmingham City University in 1990. It was built physically to express the art education manifesto of the school, led by its radical headmaster Edward R Taylor – a manifesto that encouraged students to copy directly from nature and to execute their designs in their chosen medium. This was in direct contrast to the South Kensington system of teaching practised in every other art school in the country. Chamberlain’s building was an architectural snub to the establishment: the establishment being represented in the form of the adjacent ponderously classical Council House, built six years earlier. Funded by the liberal elite of Birmingham, the school was built in two phases, with the first, designed by Chamberlain, a tour de force of Ruskinian Gothic. Sadly Chamberlain died on the day he opened the contractor William Sapcote’s winning tender. The second phase, designed by William Martin and his son Frederick and completed in 1893, was a straightforward extension of eleven identical bays of the building down Cornwall Street. The school and its building were hugely influential at the end of the nineteenth century, with Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris among its visiting lecturers, and it was an inspiration for the Glasgow School of Art. The building’s Grade I listing in 1971 was not matched with suitable funds for repair, and by 1990 the building was in very poor condition. Moreover the building had never provided the range of spaces necessary to meet the changing needs of university art education over the course of the twentieth century, and a series of ad hoc alterations to create smaller rooms for offices and seminars had turned the building into a confusing warren.


Associated Architects’ measured section

When we were appointed by the university to execute a scheme of refurbishment, the responsibility we felt was weighty. The School of Art was a building writ large in the consciousness of the practice. Two of the practice’s founding partners as well as the project architect’s father had studied there in the 1950s, when the School of Architecture was based in the building. Research and survey was the starting point of the design process. We studied photographs from the Central Library Photographic Collection and contemporary articles from The Birmingham Post, as well as original drawings by Chamberlain and Martin held in archive by the city council. One of the noted features of Chamberlain’s completed building is its asymmetrical-height three-gable composition to the Margaret Street elevation. The drawings showed that an additional level of accommodation was planned to the Cornwall Street block, but that it had been the subject of a Victorian value-engineering exercise! These magical watercolour drawings were covered in pencil sketches by hands unknown, detailing stone and joinery profiles – the first of many ghosts we encountered through the course of the project. Drawn information about the building was limited and we undertook our own measured survey, which proved instrumental to gaining a complete understanding of the building.


As in the original building, the works were executed in two phases. The first was a contract to clean the brick, terracotta and stone of the three street elevations, replace limited areas of patent glazed roof lights and line cast-iron gutters. The cleaning works were directed by Nicola Ashurst, one the UK’s foremost experts in historic building conservation, and extensive trials were undertaken to ensure the best and least invasive cleaning methods were used. The result transformed an unnoticed pollution-blackened building to one that burned again with the fierceness that it displayed when first completed. The principal studio spaces in the School of Art, being north-lit via patent glazed roof lights and open plan, still provided excellent working spaces for the fine art students, however the building did not have the range of smaller scale spaces that were required for seminars, tutorials and offices. By analysing all the spaces within the building we quickly identified spaces – such as the original extensive washrooms – that were underutilised and could be converted to house the new spaces required. Highly serviced functions such as printmaking, metalworking and photography were relocated over each other to the rear of the building, served by a common service riser and corresponding flues. Large areas within the basement were reclaimed for sculpture, including the creation of a new sculpture exhibition space. Public access into the building was encouraged by the establishment of a suite of rooms at ground floor level for library, exhibition, lecture and catering use. A new lift was inserted to give access from pavement level to the main exhibition hall, or ‘Museum’ as it was called when first built, and a new passenger lift inserted into a former light well gave access to a new second floor gallery. We designed a kit of parts to allow new mezzanine structures and stairs to be inserted into several of the large doubleheight spaces, again to provide new rooms. The detail design of these new elements was informed not only by the existing materials and forms, but also by the richness of embedded culture and history.


Fabric repair and conservation were vital in the project. The thorough understanding developed through our research and survey work allowed us to draw up exacting specifications and material selections. The external and internal fabric was repaired with similar materials and techniques and key areas restored exactly to original condition, which involved removing paint from the finely detailed brick, terracotta, stone and timber. The success of this restoration work is also attributable to the skills and enthusiasm of the tradesmen who executed the work, from the repair of the Craven Dunnill ceramic-tiled floors to the tuck-pointing of the cleaned brickwork in the Museum. The building was completely re-roofed in purpose-made clay plain tiles, lead-clothed patent glazing and lead-burned flashings. One of the ventilation stacks was rebuilt – following the original’s demolition due to instability – complete with Grinshill sandstone gabled parapets. The mechanical and electrical services were replaced completely and hidden within the building fabric, and the original venturi ventilation system brought back into use through appropriate damping and controls. We also designed a new lighting system for the school through collaboration with a lighting manufacturer.

Award RIBA Award 1996, Civic Trust Award 1998 Publication The Architects’ Journal 16 November 1995

Ghosts were everywhere in the project, from revealed lettering samplers painted on the walls to the wood-block printed labels that Sapcote’s builders pasted to the brickwork to identify each room’s eventual use. Chamberlain’s presence was also felt. The report in The Birmingham Post of the opening ceremony in 1885 describes a large Gothic memorial to Chamberlain built into the end wall of the Museum, and indeed this was shown on the original drawings. Chamberlain is remembered in his building on a beautifully carved stone tablet in a quiet corner of the space. When the years of paint was removed from the tuck-pointed brickwork of the Museum, it became clear that the original memorial had been removed and Chamberlain demoted to his current position – we can only guess at what politics were at play. And if you ever encounter a man in a blue boiler suit on the stairs, ignore him and keep walking.


Associated Architects November 2008 Simon Alexander Martin Beaumont Neil Biddle Andy Bonner Jonathan Brown Philip Burford Barbora Cietekova Jon Chadwick John Christophers Tim Cornbill Stephanie Cox Parminder Degan Lisa Dugdale Kate Ellis Kryzstof Faber Jørgen Fisker Nicola Fletcher Matthew Goer Graham Hall James Hall Amanda Harmer Debbie Hutchings Simon Jesson Spencer John Warren Jukes

Mann Kumar Rav Kumar Daniel Law Derek Lee Matthew Lucas Robert Milbourne John Norfolk Nkem Nwachukwu Mark O’Donnell Arat Patel Magda Pater-Jankowich Richard Perry Mike Pitkin Carl Russell Edward Sharland James Sinclair Lorraine Smith Jenny Song Ian Standing Hannah Surl Adam Truran Adam Wardle Paul Welch Adam Whalley Michelle Williams

ISBN 978-0-9560936-0-8

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XL Book  

A publication produced in 2008 to celebrate Associated Architects' 40th Anniversary in business

XL Book  

A publication produced in 2008 to celebrate Associated Architects' 40th Anniversary in business