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Zaero-Polo walks off New Street atrium project

Network Rail pushes through ‘crass and timid’ replacement for showpiece station interior by Foreign Office Architects successor firm

Alejandro Zaero-Polo’s practice has resigned from the centrepiece project at the heart of the £600 million revamp of Birmingham New Street station after refusing to value-engineer its designs

AZPML, which evolved out of the station’s original designers Foreign Office Architects, has been replaced by London-based Haskoll on plans for the landmark’s central atrium.

Instead of the smooth, continuous white plaster curves of the competition-winning concept design (pictured), the delivery team, led by contractor MACE with Network Rail, has forced through a radically altered design that features tensioned fabric.

A source close to the project told the AJ that AZPML, which is still working on the steel cladding package of the huge scheme, had refused to be associated with the fabric hybrid design favoured by project manager MACE.

It is understood the fabric will require regular retensioning and will have a lifespan significantly less than the 60 years stipulated in Birmingham City Council’s design brief. 

Architect Philip Singleton, former assistant director for City Centre Development at Birmingham Council and now chief executive officer at Millennium Point, said: ‘Too often clients and project managers lose their nerve and replace an architect which has been dynamic, consistent and thorough with a detached solution. The legacy of their decision in this case will impact on more than 30 million passengers a year for decades to come.’

He added: ‘This hugely important project at the heart of Birmingham had, a few years ago, suffered from diminutive thinking which was corrected at the time. To return once again to that small-mindedness is simply rather crass and timid.’

Author and academic Albena Yaneva, from the University of Manchester, who was been following the scheme since 2008, said: ‘Network Rail is interested in building in a cheaper and faster way, and not in a more durable way. The design will not be as sophisticated as it looked in the renderings of 2008.’

In a statement, Network Rail denied that the design or quality of the development would be compromised: ‘AZPML was involved in early concept design stages for the interior of the atrium. However we have now chosen to work with Haskoll as interior design architect for the atrium and the Grand Central shopping centre.

‘There are no plans to change the concept design of the atrium, which will flood Birmingham New Street station with natural light for the first time when completed.

‘We are looking at alternative solutions for cladding the interior of the atrium more efficiently, but any change will not compromise the design or quality of the development.’

The scheme is currently shortlisted for the MIPIM best regeneration project, but based on the AZPML designs.

AZPML declined to comment.

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