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CABEwarns Future Systems: the cladding's too collectable

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The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) has given a glowing endorsement to Future Systems' plans for a shimmering new £40 million Selfridges store in Birmingham's Bull Ring - but warned that its innovative cladding system may prove too tempting for 'trophy hunters' keen to take a little of the building home with them.

CABE said last week that the design 'holds out the promise of a high quality civic landmark' which will make an important contribution to the regeneration of the city, and, through its originality, establish a new building typology.

And in a positive design review report - barring a few reservations - it applauded the city council's planning department for its 'positive attitude and civic ambition' in backing the 24,000m 2five-storey proposal.

But although CABE said it was attracted by the architects' ideas for the cladding system - of thousands of coloured ceramic or aluminium discs wrapped round the building - and its inspiration from a Paco Rabanne dress, it said the features could present practical problems as potential mementoes of the iconic structure.

'Care needs to be taken that the cladding system can resist the attentions of trophy-hunters, ' it said. Future Systems' Amanda Levete told the AJ that the practice is looking at changing the materials used at lower levels and at how to make the fixings strong enough to withstand vandals.

The Commission was also positive about the architects' treatment of the roof - which features a new public garden and restaurant as well as a glass feature to let in light. And it liked the ideas for a pedestrian bridge and the vehicle entrance, declaring the relationship between the new structure and St Martin's Church to have been successfully handled, because of the contrast between the two. But CABE said the architect needed to have more of a say about the landscaping in between.

However, the Commission was less impressed with the way the proposed building meets street level. 'We believe it is important that the exterior of the building at pedestrian level is as animated as possible, preferably by active uses, but if not, at least by shop windows of some kind, ' it said. Levete said it may feature an increased use of glass 'wrapping round the building as a single gesture.'

CABE also offered 'constructive criticism'over the care it thinks is necessary to employ concerning the junction between Selfridges and the Benoy-designed elements of the Bull Ring.

Future Systems' designs have been submitted for planning permission as part of reserved matters.

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