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Grimshaw boss urges reuse of practice’s threatened High-Tech Homebase

Warehouse store for sainsburys homebase great west road, brentford london credit as architectural press archive riba collectio
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Plans to demolish a Grimshaw-designed 1980s Homebase superstore as part of a major new housing scheme have been criticised by the practice’s new chairman

Under proposals drawn up by property developer St Edward, part of Berkeley Group, hundreds of HTA-designed homes will be built at the site of a Tesco Extra store in Osterley, west London, with the nearby Homebase making way for a new Tesco Extra plus further homes in a scheme by Patel Taylor.

In all, 2,250 dwellings are planned across the two linked sites.

But writing in the AJ, Grimshaw chairman Andrew Whalley calls the scheme ‘short-sighted and unsustainable’, particularly given that the Homebase will be replaced with another superstore.

Whalley worked on the design of the Homebase – which stands on the A4 opposite Bannister Fletcher’s famous Gillette building ­­– in 1986 in his first job for the practice after graduating from the AA.

‘Aside from its eye-catching design, visible both from the road and from the Heathrow flight path, the Homebase project was also conceived to be as flexible as possible to ensure the accommodation of future use,’ Whalley writes. ‘The long span structure accommodates 4,180m² of column-free space, ideal for various adaptations.

‘Any new development at this site, and for that matter at any building site, should take into consideration the structure that may already be there. While we give attention to buildings for reasons of heritage or other architectural importance, we should also consider the inherent sustainability in adaptive reuse projects.’

Whalley’s stance was backed by Alex Ely, founding director of Mae Architects, whose nearby Brentford Lock West Keelson Gardens project is nominated for the RIBA’s inaugural Neave Brown housing award.

There is surely an opportunity for someone to creatively repurpose this building rather than lose it forever

Alex Ely, Mae

‘The urban renewal going on in Brentford is broadly to be welcomed,’ Ely said, ‘but it shouldn’t be at the cost of some of the great heritage in the area.

‘The Homebase was an inspiration for me as a student. Its demolition would mean the loss of a pioneering building whose value as an example of flexible High-Tech architecture is still to be fully demonstrated. There is surely an opportunity for someone to creatively repurpose this building and give it a new life rather than lose it forever.’

The Homebase is on the Twentieth Century Society’s Top 10 Buildings at Risk list for this year. While the society has submitted a listing request, St Edward has submitted a request for a certificate of immunity from listing.

Twentieth Century Society caseworker Grace Etherington called the building pioneering and said: ‘Grimshaw designed an exciting and dramatic store, far from what shoppers expect of a standard retail building, and the column-free design offers a remarkable level of flexibility for future use.

‘The building makes an excellent contribution to the Great West Road, referencing the Gillette Factory’s prominent tower across the road and displaying the best of British High-Tech architecture to visitors making the journey into the city centre along the A4.’

Comment from the Berkeley Group

At present, the site is in a single unsustainable use, offers very little to the local community, the public realm around the site is of poor quality and there is a lack of ecology and biodiversity. We regularly restore historic buildings across the south-east of England and have a well-earned reputation for enhancing and repurposing buildings whether they are listed or not. We always endeavour to find the optimal balance between celebrating heritage, while delivering significant public benefits for the local communities in which we work.

Our heritage consultants have undertaken a detailed and extensive study of the Homebase building and have analysed the building in terms of Grimshaw’s work and similar buildings. When this analysis is applied to the consideration of the statutory criteria for listing, it becomes clear that the Homebase store lacks sufficient special interest to satisfy the statutory requirement for listing. The threshold for special architectural or historic interest is high, and it is clear that the building lacks the overall levels of significance from a national perspective that would justify its inclusion on the statutory list.

The building lacks the overall levels of significance from a national perspective to justify listing

Furthermore, its preservation would jeopardise the provision of 2,250 much-needed homes within an identified Housing Opportunity Zone in the London Borough of Hounslow. Working with the London Borough of Hounslow, and with the support of the Mayor of London, we are working on plans to redevelop the Homebase and nearby Tesco site to provide a comprehensive masterplan for this highly accessible part of Hounslow.

Working in partnership with Tesco, we have agreed to build a modern and energy-efficient new Tesco superstore on the Homebase site, which would allow their existing 30-year-old store to be demolished and replaced with a new community of homes, shops and leisure uses. The two sites could jointly deliver over 2,250 homes including a significant number of affordable homes.

If the Homebase building is listed, this unique opportunity to unlock these brownfield sites will be lost, and no homes, new jobs, community facilities or significant biodiversity improvements will be delivered.

Warehouse store for sainsburys homebase, great west road, brentford, london credit as architectural press archive riba collectio

Source: Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Collection

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The comments from the Berkeley Group lack credibility - how on earth can being unable to demolish one superstore and build another on the same site jeopardise the provision of 2,250 much needed new homes in an 'identified Housing Opportunity Zone'?
    Sounds like a rather unscrupulous Tesco tail swinging a very large and greedy dog - and, with Berkeley's own dismissive assessment of the architectural worth of Grimshaw's building presented as gospel suggests that perhaps the sainted developers might just have 'had things their own way' rather longer than is healthy.

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