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Look beyond the textbook, Mr Holyoak

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Joe Holyoak's review of Ian Simpson Architects' new Birmingham foyer building (aj 16.7.98) is rather mystifying. His criticism seems to be based on academic theory rather than the building shown in the article (or the building I saw on a recent visit).

He decries the lack of active building front, but a look at plans in the article reveals that the ground floor is full of active uses, such as a resource room, restaurant, training room, kitchen, it suite, etc. The upper floors seem to be arranged to allow the active corridors to relate to the busy road frontage and the quieter living spaces to look over the more tranquil (but still public) courtyard.

Externally, the quieter courtyard relates to the canal side and the Queensway frontage is necessarily robust for a building on such a major road (however much this road might be 'boulevardised' - whatever that means). Hard to see the urban planning problem here.

Much more worrying is Mr Holyoak's idea that buildings and places should outwardly express their 'social programme'. Perhaps he would like to tell us how he would like to see this done. It would seem counterproductive for a scheme which sets out to assist the social reintegration of young people to be yelling from the rooftops that anyone entering the building is on a 'social programme'. This building says to me that the users have an important role to play in the society which initiated it. It does this by its obvious architectural excellence and its balance of privacy and intelligent, businesslike public face.

On the minor points, I assume the fritting of the full-height glazing is to offset the south-facing aspect, and a telephone call to the architect revealed that there are 'no signs' because they have not yet been installed.

Have another look, Mr Holyoak, but this time look beyond the textbook descriptions and you will see that the considerable architectural skill deployed in the building has also been at work on the urban design issues.


Martin Stockley Associates


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