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FAT’s Community in a Cube faces huge bill over unsafe cladding


A celebrated FAT housing block in Middlesbrough has been deemed a fire risk and will have to be overhauled, costing leaseholders hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Angry residents in the Community in a Cube (CIAC) building told the local press that the price tag for the remedial work stood at £350,000 with the possibility the figure could rise.

The £9.5 million timber-clad building, which formed part of Will Alsop’s wider but largely unbuilt Middlehaven masterplan, is the latest apartment block to have come under scrutiny as buildings face post-Grenfell safety investigations.

The nine-storey building was completed in March 2012, creating a mixed-use scheme of 82 flats above a restaurant and commercial space. The building overlooks the old docks and is situated close to Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond’s hyperboloid wire-frame sculpture, Temenos, and Archial’s Middlesbrough College.

Neither the contractor, practice or developer behind the CIAC building are still trading. FAT, which was run by directors Sean Griffiths, Charles Holland and Sam Jacob, was disbanded in December 2013, while the contractor on the CIAC scheme, GB Solutions, went under in 2015.

The developer, BioRegional Quintain, wound up its operations at the time the scheme was completed.

A spokesperson for Quintain, the parent company of BioRegional Quintain, said: ‘While we sympathise with the issues the current tenants are facing, the cladding materials used were fully compliant with fire-safety regulations at the time. As the joint venture company BioRegional Quintain was dissolved in 2011, the responsibility now lies with the current freeholder of the building.’

A spokesperson for the building’s freeholder, E&J Estates, said the company had ‘great sympathy’ for the residents. ‘Following discovery of some issues with cladding at this building, E&J, as freeholder, is working with the managing agent for the property who will take all reasonable steps to assess and then carry out any necessary works,’ they said. ‘This assessment is ongoing and it is too early to determine exactly what works may be required.’

Changes to the fire strategy had been made to ensure the safety of residents, the spokesperson added.

‘Under the terms of the lease, responsibility for costs would fall to leaseholders,’ they said. ‘We understand, however, that leaseholders have the benefit of a building warranty policy, against which they will make a claim.’

The Teeside Gazette reported that a letter to residents outlined what needed to happen to make the building safe and how much it would initially cost.

The costs include: moving the central trellis – £61,000; installing new heat detectors – £92,000; and appointing a façade consultant – £145,000.

A ‘waking watch’ at the building has already cost £60,000 and recladding work was unlikely to be finished by March 2020, the newspaper reported. Service charges would be increasing over the next six months to pay for the work, according to a resident.

Responding to the news, Jacob, who went on to set up Sam Jacob Studio in 2014 after leaving FAT, told the AJ: ‘It was a design-and-build contract so we were designing to meet building regulations at the time. As is often the case there were many changes during the design-and-build process.’

Asked if he felt any responsibility for putting residents at risk, he replied: ‘No, we fulfilled our responsibilities’, adding that the building was safe ‘in terms of the planning’.

He said: ’[Design and build] is an issue the industry needs to address at a wide level. At its widest level, it’s the pursuing of efficiency over quality. The architect’s role has been strangely sometimes cut in half so that it’s no longer a whole project.’

Griffiths added: ’This is terrible news and awful for the residents. We are very sad indeed to hear about it. It’s a building for which we have much affection.

‘We can confirm that the building was procured under a design-and-build contract and that FAT was the concept architect.

’But it is not really possible for us to comment on who is responsible for any deficiencies arising out of processes which were not part of FAT’s appointment and in which FAT had no involvement.’

Charles Holland, who has since founded Charles Holland Architects, told the AJ he wouldn’t want to comment further until he had more information. ’It was not a project I personally was intimately involved in,’ he said.

FAT’s brief for client BioRegional and Quintain was to deliver a highly sustainable, landmark housing project that would exceed Eco Homes ‘excellent’ rating.

Reviewing the scheme in 2012, the AJ wrote of the site’s ‘superb location’ and of the building’s ‘remarkable’ ecological credentials.

‘A fabric-first approach means the 400mm-thick exterior walls are packed with insulation, and heating is from a biomass boiler sized to heat five blocks,’ wrote architecture critic Steve Parnell in his review. ‘The approach to specification is also impressive: recycled North Sea oil pipeline segments form the foundation piles, the roof tiles are made of recycled car dashboards, the insulation is wood fibre (giving a wall U-value of 0.2) and the concrete uses 50 per cent GGBS and recycled hardcore aggregate.


Readers' comments (9)

  • Is the time approaching when architects and designers whose work complied with now discredited building standards will still be accused of liability for faulty design - or has that day already arrived?

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  • Lot of projects with Asbestos if that day has arrived...

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  • Industry Professional

    Am I going "mad" or did not the Government say after the Grenfell disaster that residents would not have to pay for such remedial work? It seems to me that leaseholders are paying for work by the back-door, so to speak. Jeffrey (Engineer)

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  • For Industry Professional:
    To be dismally cynical, if the head of our government is devoid of integrity, what are the chances that the rest are that much different?

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  • I wonder how long it will be until the legal profession cabbages onto the fact that the rankest incompetence appears to be the norm of the UK design industry - at least where anything having to do with timber is involved.
    Barely a week goes by without this journal featuring some timber clad absurdity, destined to become dilapidated within a decade.
    The Thames Rowing Club, the Shaldon Road development in Bristol, Cranleigh School, countless new homes and many other projects; All deceptively showing rather lovely elevations that bear no resemblance to how the structures will look in a few years time.
    Let me state - I am not suggesting deliberate fraud or criminality on the part of the designers - just a woeful unfamiliarity with the nature of timber. However, there is a presumed knowledge which all professional designers are expected to have, and maybe this is where an aggressive legal industry can indict the professional bodies who have stood idly by as the vandalism continues.
    No !! Cedar cladding does not remain beautiful. It turns a dreadful dirty grey/black, and if not protected by an overhang will look even worse. The new £5million Kingsteighton Primary School is going to have some mighty angry trustees five years down the road.

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  • It’s a travesty to expect leaseholders to foot the bill for past failings of the building standards. The government(s) need to take stock of the regulations and pro-actively set out required measures to ensure the well-being of the public. Rather than reactively changing legislation after disasters. A clear understanding of what has caused these historic failures needs to be had. Scapegoating timber, when it was in fact the foam insulation and a lack of fire breaks that caused Grenfell, is wrong—and frankly conjecture from the problem at hand. Granted timber cladding that has not been treated with a fire protective coating can be a risk on high rise buildings. But the new legislation on restrictions of height for timber framed structures is ludicrous. The evidence is there that products such as CLT and glulam—when treated with a class 0 coating or covered with fireline board—actually perform better in fires than steel and concrete. If we are to reach anywhere near carbon neutrality, these sustainable products need to be used, and the legislation needs to be based on hard evidence to not stifle these targets—whilst keeping the public safe.

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  • Innocenta (leaseholders) hurt again. LOts of legal /tech nical changes need to be made, urgentlky, but here's amajor one: Buyers of apartments and houses don't have tge protection of the Consumer Protection Acts. This could be changed really quickly, and be applied for say the 1st 5 years post construction, even if sold / resold not for profit. There was a case for the present law when everything was 'craft' or one off. Buyt those days are long over. There are few grounds for the present exemption from Consumer Protection law. Can anyone say it's relavabnt in our modern, mass standard design / constrution age?

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  • Ha ha...did someone say ‘government’? They can’t even keep their own building safe...and the 5th of November is coming...good luck Guido. It’s quite difficult to legislate for anything with a ‘majority’ of minus 40. Start dredging all the ditches on 1 Nov for a bloated blonde ninconpoop in a crumpled suit and unpolished shoes. Shiny shoes are the key to civilisation.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    Sounds like the state of UK standards, ethics and corporate law in microcosm-
    Inadequate or unenforced Building Regulations
    Safety in liquidation for all parties
    10yr building warranty small print questions?
    Silence from Insurers?
    Architect not appointed to complete or build his design
    Final specification and quality of build not monitored?
    No-one accountable because no-one feels responsible.
    Legal paperwork for leaseholders incomplete?
    -and gimmickry to boot.

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