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.