Fifty-five storey tower for hotel and serviced apartments, with associated conference and function facilities in the podium. Designed by Aedas.
23 November 2009
Planning reference: 2009/04215/PA
We recognise that the principle of a tall building in this Central Ridge Zone location has been established in the city’s High Places policy. However, in general we are uncomfortable about the proposed height of this building that seems to be generated by value rather than urban design considerations. In our view, a convincing case has not been made in urban design terms for this scheme to be the tallest building in Birmingham. We are concerned for example that the tower will loom over the successful development at Brindley Place. In addition, we question whether a building of this height is even viable in structural or economic terms as currently proposed. Most important, the lack of breathing space on the ground calls into question whether this particularly constrained site surrounded by traffic is appropriate for such a tall building at all. We would expect the most visible building in Birmingham to make a generous contribution to public realm at street level, have a positive relationship to its immediate and wider context and demonstrate an inventive and sustainable approach in its form and architecture. As a potential future symbol of the city, we do not think that the current design for this prominent building is good enough for Birmingham and urge the city to demand better. We do not support the current outline planning application.
In accordance with the joint CABE and English Heritage Guidance on tall buildings, we do not consider that outline applications for tall buildings proposals are appropriate. We urge the planning authority to require that revised proposals are resubmitted in full to ensure that architectural quality expected can be properly assessed and controlled throughout the planning process.
Contribution to the street level environment
Our principal concern about this project is the poor quality environment created where the building meets the ground and the treatment of the podium. Rather than making a positive contribution to the surrounding public realm, the size and form of the podium seems to have been driven by the desire to create a large ballroom above ground level. The decision to maximise the podium footprint on the available site area leaves no outdoor or covered public space to receive the large numbers of people arriving at, or leaving, the building. The sketch of the podium presented demonstrates the unforgiving street level environment created. For example, the only route provided through the site is underneath the building that, from our experience, is unlikely to be a pleasant space.
We find the relationship of the podium to the relatively interesting listed building on the site unresolved. We think this former bank, which feels squeezed by the curved podium form, deserves a more generous and considered setting. If the design intention is to wrap the podium around the rear of the listed building to preserve its setting, we question the blank wall proposed that shows a lack of understanding of how to respond to the back of an existing building.
We would expect a scheme of such high density and value to make a more generous contribution to the public realm and we are disappointed in the lack of investment in improving the quality of the surrounding streets and spaces. Given the scale of this project, an opportunity seems to have been missed to work with the local authority to rethink the highways engineering around the site as part of the public realm improvements this scheme of this scale should deliver, the existing roundabout at the northwest end of the site in particular. We are not convinced that the vehicular access and servicing arrangements from the existing roundabout currently proposed will work in highways engineering terms.
Form and architecture
In the 21st century, we would expect a more innovative and robust approach to the form and architecture of a major tall building, driven by sustainability. In particular, we would expect a more sustainable and flexible approach to the building envelope than the floor-to-floor largely glazed curtain walling (with roof level plant) currently proposed, a structural concrete shell for example. The architecture of the most visible building in Birmingham should be exceptional and specific to its place, rather than simply following the current trend for ‘pixelated’ elevations. We are concerned that the proposed façade construction will not prove durable and will leave the city with another tower that needs to be re-clad in thirty years time.
We think the design team need to anticipate the future re-use of this large building to enhance the long term resource and energy efficiency of the building. We are concerned that the close relationship of the structure and servicing strategy and the current hotel use, including the apparently undersized columns and risers, will constrain future sustainability and adaptability.
Finally, we are not convinced by the relative proportions of the elements of the tower and the lack of articulation in its form. Specifically, we find the repetitive expression of storey heights unrelenting and think that a richly articulated form that more clearly expresses the change in use from hotel to apartment to penthouses would be more successful. Given the relative design effort that has been given to the top of the building, it is disappointing that the crown mainly contains plant.
There may be a case for a tall building on this constrained site, but not without a fundamental rethink of the design generators of the form and architecture, and a wholesale review of the surrounding public realm and highways engineering. In our view, more serious thought about the quality of the street level environment and the approach to sustainability is likely to result in development in a very different form on this site.