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Birmingham Charrette: Smith and Taylor

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Smith and Taylor reintroduced neo-classical orders

The reintroduction of Neo-classical orders, capitals and colonnades underpins this historically attuned proposal. A proposed new bridge with a rusticated base channels the neo-Palladian picturesque of William Kent, a mood completed by an obelisk and folly: an unloved pedestrian subway becomes a fantastical subterranean grotto.

Timothy Smith and Jonathan Taylor of Smith and Taylor with artist Iain Hales

Timothy Smith and Jonathan Taylor established an architecture and design partnership after several years of collaboration. Recent projects include the full refurbishment of a townhouse in Highbury, London, and the conversion and refurbishment of a substantial industrial building in East London. Smith Taylor’s work pursues a creative modern architecture informed by what the practice calls traditional or ‘classical’ virtues – ‘a respect for history and freedom from cant’. Projects by the practice have been shortlisted for the AJ Small Projects Awards and for an RIBA Yorkshire Award. Iain Hales is a Scottish artist living and working in London. He has exhibited at the Londonewcastle property space and the Baltic Museum of Art.

Smith and Taylor team approach

We were struck by the drama of Victorian Birmingham and the vision and bravery of the 1960s architects. With the quality and power of the existing buildings, for the new to be anything less – or too deferential – would be a disservice to both. What we have done is look to the Classical orders to introduce weight, relief and rhythm, working as guiding proportions. Secondly, we introduced colonnades, which help with porosity while still being generous at ground level. Colonnades could be to Birmingham what they are to Turin. The paving could be much improved. Big slabs or precast concrete blocks would be better than the existing tiles. Difficult edges of the masterplan could be features in the wider cityscape: a grotto or an arched bridge with a heavily rusticated base, similar to a William Kent design at Stowe or Rousham.

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