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Hawkins\Brown could face legal action over Corby Cube debacle

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A sensational report published this week has revealed a catalogue of major problems with Hawkins\Brown’s ‘commercially and operationally flawed’ Corby Cube

Drawn up by an internal working group within Corby Borough Council, the document was released as the authority agreed to shell out a further £500,000 to complete the ‘dangerous’ flagship building which is now more than £12million over its original £35million budget.

The council has also confirmed that legal action against the practice was ‘still an option’ with respect to its design work on the building which has been plagued with issues since opening in late 2010 and which has yet to receive fire and building regulations certification.

It is understood the working group recommended litigation against Hawkins\Brown, but council members have yet to make a final decision.

Despite millions being thrown at the project, the 7,700m² building can still only house a maximum of 1,560 people – half that originally envisaged in the brief.

According to the 91-page scrutiny review document (attached), even that was not achievable upon completion. Fears over the fire strategy, it is claimed, initially restricted numbers to 600 and it was ‘only through mitigating measures’ that 1,200 were safely allowed in the building.

The report, which was drafted earlier in the year but has only just been made public, reads: ‘The council, as client, has incurred substantial unforeseen costs in order to bring the building into occupiable state but with limitations on occupancy still unresolved.’

Further concerns over fire safety also led the authority to fit, at extra cost, mechanical extractors in the basement area of the £47 million project, which the practice won in competition in 2004 and which houses council offices, a library and a theatre.

The in-depth document also reveals problems with the ‘helter skelter’ spiral staircase which was branded, ‘dangerous’, ‘forbidding’ and ‘not user friendly to other than the most active and able’.

The all-party review panel criticised Hawkins\Brown for not delivering drawings and specification in accordance with its contract. Hornagold & Hills, the council’s project managers at that time, ‘became sufficiently concerned at the lack of performance by Hawkins Brown of their duties at design stage’ that they commissioned another architect to review the Stage E information.

Practice co-founder Roger Hawkins’ inroduction on to the overseeing board was also condemned, with one respondent saying they were concerned ‘about conflicts of interest’. Others felt the design team was engaged in ‘parallel decision making processes or forums … that bypassed the board’.

The report concludes: ‘This landmark project became a vanity project. Political governance which institutionalised monolithic control ensured that those who questioned the direction of the project as it underperformed and overspent were treated as destabilising voices and marginalised.

‘[It is] questionable whether in the long term the council will be able to afford the investment to maintain the fabric of the building given the absence of any forethought as to life cycle costs.‘

Hawkins\Brown refused to comment on the contents of the report. However, when elements of the documents were revealed to the BBC in April, Hawkins hit back at allegations the practice had treated the council like a ‘cash cow’. He said: ‘We’ve always been very positive about the need to have control of the financial aspect of the project and I think the design team has done an excellent job with that.

‘We have consistently given good advice to the council with whatever costs were emerging on the project.’

The Cube had been widely tipped for a RIBA Award last year. It did however scoop a commendation from the Civic Trust which described the building as a ’contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional town hall; the physical embodiment of civic society and pride.’

Read the AJ’s review of the building here (AJ 05.05.11).

AJ Buildings Library

Images, drawings and details of the Corby Cube by Hawkins\Brown

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