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Igloo: 'Architects need to find conviction again’

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Andrea Klettner meets Igloo, the ‘sustainable urban developer’ keen to provide opportunities for young, risk-taking architects and looking to kickstart ground-up local regeneration

‘I have a strong style preference for the contemporary vernacular,’ says Chris Brown, the straight-talking chief executive of Igloo.

‘So many older architects are almost traditional modernists; you feel like you’re getting a poor man’s Corbusier a lot of the time’

‘There are so many of our older architects that are almost traditional modernists; you feel like you’re getting a poor man’s Corbusier a lot of the time. It’s not the right response within existing inner city areas – it looks like a spaceship has landed.’

The self-billed ‘sustainable urban developer’ and its subsidiary, Blueprint, are in a pretty good position, given the looming threat of a double-dip recession for the construction industry.

While many large-scale government-backed building programmes are on indefinite hold, Igloo is firing ahead on a number of significant projects, such as the BBC’s £25 million production village in Cardiff and the Cathedral Quarter in Derby.

Both Brown and his partner Nick Ebbs, chief executive of Blueprint, see the current state of affairs as a challenge to the development industry and what it can produce. More importantly, they are potential clients on the hunt for new architects and are inviting up-and-coming designers to take part in reforming the ‘accepted status quo’ of design.

Ebbs spells it out: ‘We are very keen to work with young architects, especially when they are local to the area we are building in and are ambitious with their ideas.’

Brown goes further. He believes the profession needs to try to recapture the self-belief of the early modernists. ‘Architects need to find again that conviction that they can bring about transformative change,’ he says.

Blueprint has already worked with emerging practices, such as Studio Egret West at the now complete Nottingham Science Park (AJ online 03.09.08), usually in collaboration with larger, more established firms – in this case with Hawkins\Brown.

‘The process [for the newer practices] is to try to get smaller builds or elements of larger builds,’ says Brown. ‘Most of the larger architecture firms are desperate to be seen as creative, and if you can get into a partnership like that, it’s perfect.’

Ebbs adds: ‘Some developers tend to go with the less creative but larger firms on the basis of risk. But we think the risk is the other way round. If you employ these firms with a lesser design quality you risk devaluing your project in the end.’

Igloo itself seems to be taking on projects similar to those that the dying regional development agencies would have tackled, such as Bermondsey Square in south London, designed by Urban Salon, Sarah Wigglesworth Architects and the practice formerly known as Munkenbeck + Marshall.

Other schemes include a green housing development for the Meadows, one of Nottingham’s toughest local authority estates. The 0.4ha site includes 38 housing units designed by local practice Marsh Grochowski.

The developer also sees a lot of future work coming from smaller, urban infill projects – areas that need urgent regeneration and require a keen eye for design.

‘This kind of smaller work is perfect for young architects,’ says Ebbs. ‘They have been taught about sustainability in school and can apply the enthusiasm they have for this kind of work.’

But despite this enterprise, Ebbs believes public cash is still needed to avoid a crisis in the affordable housing sector. ‘It is not possible to deliver affordable housing at the rates needed to avoid a housing crisis without substantial funds from government,’ he says.

‘We have been slow to embrace new innovations in design and construction, bureaucracy has grown and procurement is nowhere near as smart as in other industries. Perhaps one good outcome of this imminent painful period of austerity will be an earnest quest for smarter solutions.’


Architects needed: A selection of Igloo’s projects


Cathedral Quarter, Derby

Cathedral Quarter, Derby

Cathedral Quarter, Derby

Ash Sakula has masterplanned this inner city scheme (pictured), which includes later plans for a business and innovation centre.

“What Igloo says: ‘There are lots of empty buildings here – an out-of-town Westfield sucked the life out of the city centre.”

  • Open competition for small, mixed-use first phase scheme



Old Mill, Nottingham

Igloo is working with the Co-op on supermarket scheme for the old mill site.
“What Igloo says: ‘Supermarkets are changing. We want something that repairs the area -– a catalytic project for the neighbourhood.”

  • Competition to be launched



Brentford Locks West, London

Urban design for this 4ha site in Brentford town centre is being worked up by Urbed, Klas Tham and Tovatt Architects & Planners of Stockholm. Outline planning is to be submitted in the autumn.

“What Igloo says: ‘This is a new project and we’ll be making decisions soon about how to select architects for individual builds.”

  • A mix of open and limited competitions for the individual buildings



Roath Basin, Cardiff

Roath Basin, Cardiff

Roath Basin, Cardiff

Work has started on site on this production village for the BBC designed by FAT (pictured), as part of the creation of a media district in the Roath Basin area of Cardiff Bay. Ash Sakula is working on the digital media centre.

“What Igloo says: ‘There’s lots of bad architecture here and we felt it needed a strong design to start off the project.”

  • Architects sought for later residential phases
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