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At last- Brunswick gets going

Developer Allied London Properties, teaming up with Patrick Hodgkinson and Levitt Bernstein Associates, will begin its £20 million reconfiguration of the Brunswick Centre in London's Bloomsbury this week.

The scheme's start will finally bring the 40-year saga to finish Hodgkinson's Grade II-listed 1960s retail and housing project to its long-awaited conclusion.

The redevelopment of the urban megastructure will create 16,000m2 of new retail space and will incorporate a comprehensive repair of the building's external fabric and public entrances. It will also introduce new paving, lighting and landscaping. The work is the latest in a long line of proposals to improve the fabric of the building that have previously failed to get off the ground.

The complex - described in a 1972 critical review by Neave Brown as an 'exceptional success' - was never completed to its original specifications after its first developer hit financial difficulties and had to sell. Hodgkinson was forced to stop working on the designs.

'Patrick had designed a covered shopping hall with a glazed roof that never materialised,' explained Levitt Bernstein partner David Levitt, who collaborated with Hodgkinson on the original drawings. 'It was also meant to be painted. It was never intended to look the way it does, to be an unpainted concrete building like the National Theatre,' he continued.

The new work will go some way to address some of the complex's shortfalls. Surfaces will receive a new paint job and, with the construction of the supermarket across the site's central thoroughfare, the new design will go part of the way to realising the original notion of a covered shopping hall.

Allied London bought the 55,000m2 building five years ago. It secured listed building and planning consent from Camden council in September 2003. But earlier solutions to the landmark's problems have foundered as developers failed to satisfy the concerns of residents, the architectural community at large and their own shareholders.

Waitrose's decision to take on the supermarket lease in December last year finally gave the financial green light. 'The developer very shrewdly decided that it would need to let a supermarket to finance repair work to all the dilapidations,' said Levitt.

When the centre was built, a long lease on the 400-unit residential element was sold to the London Borough of Camden to provide low-income public housing. But, in an unfortunate case of history repeating itself, one of the most distinctive features of the building - its access gallery system - will remain unrenovated. This, as Camden Council's responsibility, will stay untouched due to lack of funds.

by Rob Sharp

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