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CASPAR (City-Centre Apartments for Single People at Affordable Rents) originated as the winning scheme in a competition for an innovative housing project in the heart of Birmingham.

The building comprises two parallel residential blocks of five and four storeys. The blocks are linked by a covered courtyard, from which a series of staggered suspended central walkways give access to each flat by way of angled link bridges. The staggered walkways avoid overshadowing, enabling more light into the central areas, and the design concept envisages that the bridges be used as front gardens, as well as providing a link between neighbours.

Bounded by canals and a busy street, the awkward site led the design team to investigate fabricating everything offsite. However this was deemed impractical. The tight programme determined the selection of a steel frame, precast concrete planks, steel bridges and the installation of prefabricated bathroom pods.

However, the complexity of the works on site and narrow margins caused the original contractor in the partnership to pull out. A new team had to be drawn together, and a co-ordinated commitment re-engineered. So the building is a the result of close collaboration between the design team and contractor, albeit tied into a tight, formal, contractual arrangement.

Simon Allford is matter of fact: 'If you work with contractors early on, you can bring to bear their know- ledge and insight - especially with regard to how the details will work. There is still a need for a complete pack of information but at least with a close team, the correctly targeted drawings can be identified with minimum wasted time and effort.'

Because the client had a set budget, the design team had a certain amount of flexibility to amend the material and design specifications, provided that they remained in line with the client's brief and the performance specification.

Avoiding M4I buzzwords, such as 'zero-defects', is important to Allford - he explains that schemes are always zero-defect after being snagged and finished properly. Allford is concerned about who will be monitoring the practice if he indulges the target-based approaches to architecture.

At the end of the day he considers that the process of getting people to discuss their shortfalls, to share their experience and change their worst practices, can only be a good thing.



Joseph Rowntree Foundation


Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects


John Sisk & Sons



Alsop Zogolovitch Urban Studio


Jenny Coe Landscape


Jackson Coles


Peverley & Wheater

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