Compared with the £5 million cost of the new 'space-age' media centre at Lord's, the two commentary boxes either side of a new electronic scoreboard at Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham may seem insignificant. To be fair, the boxes are for radio commentaries only. However, to the thousands of cricket enthusiasts tuning in to listen to the ball-by-ball commentaries, they are anything but insignificant.
The architect, Bryant Priest Newman Architects, has had a long association with Edgbaston cricket ground, which is the second largest capacity cricket ground in the UKand the home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club. The practice worked as an equal partner with David Morley Architects on an indoor cricket centre at the same ground, completed during 2000, and is currently designing a series of new canopies and additional seating to the Eric Holles Stand (AJ 7.12.00) that will be completed this year.
The ground lies in Birmingham's most affluent suburb, a verdant park-like neighbourhood created by Victorian developers for the factory-owning class - though industry itself was banned from the area.
The main pitch at Edgbaston is surrounded with traditional tiered seating, largely built in the 1950s and 1960s, of reinforced concrete and rendered brickwork; some seating is enclosed but most is open to the elements. Spectators reach their seats in the tiers by a series of staircases, with the space below the tiers used for bars, cafes and storage.
The two new boxes, which cost a total of £35,000, replace four original boxes - basic timber shed jobs - which had to be dismantled to make way for the scoreboard.
The architect has neatly positioned the new boxes on the roofs of two of the staircases, giving them a prime view without losing valuable seats. Access to each box is by a simple galvanised steel staircase fixed to the tiers and leading to a gridded steel landing.
It is a minimal plan - a single 2 x 2.5 x 2.1m space with a built-in desk facing a frameless glazed wall which extends around the corner, the edge sealed with clear silicone. The floors of the boxes are carpeted, as are the desktops which the commentators use during matches. 'The radio commentary nearly always goes out live, ' explains the architect, Richard Newman, 'and reporters always worry that they might drop the microphone on a hard surface, transmitting a deafening crash to the ears of cricket enthusiasts.'
Being in such a prominent position, the boxes had to look good while blending in with their surroundings. 'We designed each box as an assembly of folded elements to make it appear unobtrusive; it's similar in concept to the design of the indoor cricket centre, ' explains Newman. Each wall element - white-painted timber weatherboarding, plywood, profiled aluminium and frameless glass - is 'folded' to overlap the adjacent wall plane.
The weather-boarded wall rises to a simple band of clerestory fanlights which give ventilation. The boxes are covered with a flat roof trimmed with aluminium.
Since they opened last spring - in time to cover last summer's test match between England and the West Indies - the boxes have been well used. And soon the likes of Jonathan Agnew will be picking up their microphones in readiness for the the next big cricketing encounter at the ground - the Ashes clash against the Australians.
ARCHITECT Bryant Priest Newman Architects
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Farebrother & Partners
QUANTITY SURVEYOR Francis Graves
CONTRACTOR Circle Contracts
SUPPLIERS roof Trocal; fabrication Lowe Engineering (Midland)