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Third time lucky as K4 drops shrinking tower plans

K4 Architects has ditched proposals to build a tower above Birmingham’s disused Central Fire Station in its third set of plans for the site

The practice’s original blueprints featured a 30-storey tower which was trimmed to 23 storeys following criticism from DC CABE. That scheme was rejected by the city’s planning committee and the firm has now dropped the ‘tall element’ of its overhaul of the Grade II-listed site which will create 463 student bedrooms.

K4 founder Bob Ghosh said: ‘Rather than embarking on an appeal process with an uncertain outcome, developer Watkin Jones has taken a more pragmatic view and decided to revisit the brief for the project, reducing the pressure to achieve high numbers.

‘Although there is no tower, the proposals go beyond ‘textbook conservation’. Interventions are still bold and challenging. We’ve increased the conversion aspect of the listed building, including basement spaces and the Drill Tower. There is still a significant new-build element within the courtyard and a glass rooftop extension to one of the perimeter wings.’

Resubmitted (September 2012): the revised plans for Birmingham's former central fire station by K4 Architects. The scheme no longer features a central tower. Ballroom.

Ballroom

Ghosh said that English Heritage, the Twentieth Century Society, the Birmingham Civic Society and Birmingham’s Conservation and Heritage Panel had all ‘commended this new approach’.

Both the resubmitted planning application and listed building consent are expected to go before Birmingham City Council’s planning committee before the end of 2012.

Responding to the length of time it had already taken to get to this point, Ghosh said: ‘I believe that 2 years is a relatively short period in the life of this building in order to secure its long term future.’

Revised (March 2012): plans for Birmingham's former central fire station by K4 Architects

Revised (March 2012): plans for Birmingham’s former central fire station by K4 Architects

Previous story (AJ 21.05.2012)

K4 vows to battle on after reworked Brum tower is rejected

K4 Architects has told the AJ it remains ‘fully committed’ to the controversial redevelopment of Birmingham’s former central fire station after its latest plans were thrown out

Last week, Birmingham City Council’s planning committee rejected the already redesigned proposals for the Grade II-listed site featuring a 23-storey, slab-like block housing student flats.

Initial proposals (see below) were reworked last year following criticism from DC CABE, with seven storeys shaved off the top of the £50 million project’s landmark skyscraper.

Despite these revisions the ‘disappointed and concerned’ design watchdog said it remained ‘unconvinced’ by the plans and urged the Birmingham-based practice to re-think its concept - especially the massing of the ‘domineering’ tower block.

The idea of sitting in a large block in the heart of the historic site also proved problematic for the city’s planning committee. Speaking to the Birmingham Mail shortly after the refusal, committee member Barry Henley said: ‘The idea is bad, it cannot be improved upon. You can’t polish a t**d.’

Yet K4 founder Bob Ghosh said the practice had not been deterred by the 10 vote to two rejection of the plans: ‘We’re naturally disappointed, but must respect the committee’s decision. However, we are not too disheartened – we see this as a setback, but it hasn’t dampened our enthusiasm for the project.

This site is possibly the most complex design challenge in the city – perhaps even the country

‘We remain fully committed to working with the [developer] Watkin Jones and Birmingham City Council to find a resolution to this site, which is possibly the most complex design challenge in the city – perhaps even the country.’

He added: ‘Between us, we need to find the best way of bringing this fine building back into use and introducing a significant intervention fitting of its gateway position.’

K4 Architects’ original proposals for Birmingham’s former central fire station featuring a 30-storey tower - view from Steelhouse Lane

K4 Architects’ original proposals for Birmingham’s former central fire station featuring a 30-storey tower - view from Steelhouse Lane

Previous story (AJ 15.03.12)

K4 responds to criticism with reworked Brum tower

K4 Architects has redesigned its controversial redevelopment of Birmingham’s former central fire station which originally featured a 30-storey tower.

Following criticism from DC CABE last year and after ‘extensive’ consultation with the local authority, the new scheme for the Grade II-listed site is now seven storeys shorter and 17m narrower.

The design watchdog branded initial designs for the £50 million student accommodation-led project ‘unconvincing ’ and urged a major reduction in its ‘scale and quantum’.

Explaining the revisions, practice founder Bob Ghosh said: ‘The new design is not as much of a ‘statement’, but it is certainly more sensitive to its context, both in terms of materiality and form.

‘I was concerned with the impact of a reduction in height on the form and proportion of the building. However we have managed to compensate by making the building more slender through careful adjustment of the floorplate.

He added: ‘The tower and the listed building now have a better dialogue between them, both in terms of scale and connectivity.’ 

The redesign proposal is expected to be considered by Birmingham City Council’s planning committee in mid-April.

The architect’s view

The scheme will provide around 700 student bedrooms in a range of configurations including converted firemen’s flats and clustered arrangements, where the shared living spaces are expressed as the transparent corners of the tower.

The main body of the proposed tower acknowledges the height of surrounding buildings and is capped with a semi-transparent three-storey glass box.

Previous story (AJ 22.08.2011)

DC CABE urges rethink of K4’s ‘unconvincing’ Brum tower

The Design Council CABE has called for a major rethink of K4 Architects’ proposed redevelopment of Birmingham’s former central fire station featuring a 30-storey tower

The organisation’s design review panel said it urged the practice to rethink the design concept of the £50 million student accommodation-led scheme ‘by reducing the scale and quantum of development’. The reviewers said it had significant concerns about the centrepiece skyscraper which it claimed would ‘dominate the [Grade II-listed] fire station and damage the wider townscape setting’.

The panel added: ‘We find contradiction with the strategy to construct a tall building behind the retained Potter’s Street facade of the fire station building. The benefits of retaining the historic facade of the building are far outweighed by the damage the tall building will cause to its setting. It is difficult to see how the retention of the elevation would preserve the sense of streetscape along Potters Street with the tall building looming behind.’

The design watchdog also attacked the lack of ‘potential for adaptive reuse of the tall building’ - such as conversion to flats - if student accommodation was no longer viable. Read the full review here.

Despite the critical comments, practice founder Bob Ghosh said the design team would only be making ‘refinements’ to the project to reduce the impact on its ‘neighbours and the listed building’ and hit back at the design review process.

He said: ‘The CABE review process is not able to consider the wider economic and regenerative benefits of the scheme and tends to look at design in isolation. It is also a particular drawback where a panel of experts have not visited the site and cannot appreciate Birmingham’s inherent contradictions and complex cityscape.

‘While CABE’s assessment questions the tall building concept, in no way does it acknowledge the resultant benefits to the listed building, which would be restored and brought back into meaningful use.’

The Birmingham-based practice, which set up late last year, was chosen to take the scheme forward by project backer Watkin Jones following a design competiton.

Under the current proposals, the development will create accommodation for 823 students as well as 1,600m² of mixed commercial floor space. The former firemen’s drill yard will be converted into a new publicly accessible courtyard. Work on site was originally scheduled to begin before the end of this year (2011). 

Bob Ghosh’s comments in full:

‘It’s apparent that the CABE review process is not able to consider the wider economic and regenerative benefits of the scheme and tends to look at design in isolation. It is also a particular drawback where a panel of experts have not visited the site and cannot appreciate Birmingham’s inherent contradictions and complex cityscape.

 While CABE’s assessment questions the tall building concept, in no way does it acknowledge the resultant benefits to the listed building, which would be restored and brought back into meaningful use.

‘We believe the site is appropriate for a tall building, being a key gateway into the City Core. This position is supported by Birmingham’s Big City Plan, which locates the site within a ‘tall building cluster’ and the City Council’s ‘High Places’ policy document, which identifies the site as being along the central ‘ridge’ zone, where the clustering of tall buildings is advocated.

‘With regard to the interface with Aston University, whilst this is an important aspect of the project, it pre-supposes that the residents within the scheme will all be Aston University students. In fact, there are two other Universities with a City Centre presence (Birmingham City University and University College Birmingham), as well as other institutions with a residential requirement, such as the College of Law. There has been a rigorous consultation process with Birmingham City Council’s City Design Team, who have supported the concept throughout.  The scheme also received positive feedback at public consultation. We have carefully listened to all of the comments received, including concerns expressed by Aston University and English Heritage. In response, we are currently addressing the valid points and enhancing the design. We continue to work closely with the City Council who have agreed to defer the Committee until later this year.

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