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Listed Birds Eye HQ faces demolition under Broadway Malyan housing plans

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Broadway Malyan has submitted plans to demolish and redevelop the Grade II-listed former Birds Eye headquarters (1961), one of the first corporate headquarters to be built outside London

The AJ100 practice has unveiled plans for 375 homes plus ground-floor commercial units and car parking on the 6ha Walton Court site in Walton-Upon-Thames, Surrey.

Developers A2 Dominion and Crest Nicholson argue that retention of the existing building is unviable due to an estimated repair bill of £40 million.

However a spokesperson for The Twentieth Century Society said that, based on the information it had seen so far, the heritage organisation was ‘not convinced that the case for demolition of a listed building – only justifiable in exceptional circumstances – has been adequately made’.

To date Elmbridge Borough Council, which will decide the application, has received 48 objections to the proposals, with 10 letters in support.

One objector said: ‘If this building is demolished without very careful consideration, we may as well scrap the notion of listed buildings.

Birdseye2

Birdseye2

‘Accordingly I would oppose any application which involves demolition without the most extensive independent investigation as to the building’s structural integrity.’

A heritage statement accompanying Broadway Malyan’s application insists there is no way the building could realistically be saved. The document reads: ‘It is now clear that irrespective of viability, the shortcomings of the internal structure and the external cladding mean that there is no real prospect of conserving Walton Court as a designated heritage asset.’

It is beleived the building’s owners, who bought the landmark from Green Property for £20 million last year, failed in their attempts to attract a commercial occupier due to the costs of repairing the building.

A previous deal with supermarket chain Lidl collapsed in 2015 after their engineers voiced worries over the building’s High Alumina Cement content. The material has subsequently been banned from use in construction in the UK.

In addition, Broadway Malyan claims, the cladding system with its series of thin, single-glazed, non-thermally-broken anodised aluminium panels features window panels lined with asbestos.

In 2009, problems associated with these panels led to a grant of planning permission and listed building consent for their complete removal and replacement.

The heritage statement said: ‘The cladding has already been accepted as being beyond economic repair, while the only long-term solution for the concrete frame is to build an entirely new supporting structure, either removing the redundant concrete entirely or preserving this defective material in situ, to serve no obvious purpose.

These options ultimately amount to the rebuilding of Walton Court in some form of close facsimile

‘These options ultimately amount to the rebuilding of Walton Court in some form of close facsimile, rather than presenting a means to conserve the listed building as a designated heritage asset.’

Birds Eye was one of the first companies to move its offices out of London, bringing all its staff together on the site, close to rail and airport connections.

The frozen food giant employed the firm of John Burnet, Tait and Partners to design the building, which would project Birds Eye’s corporate identity through architecture.

Stuart Bertie, who has led Broadway Malyan’s design team from its Weybridge studio, said: ‘The striking design of the existing building with its strong horizontal rhythm created by the half hexagonal aluminium pattern of the façade has been a key influence in designing a scheme that we believe is a worthy replacement architecturally while also providing a new landmark on this important site in Walton-upon-Thames.

‘The proposed site layout is derived from the formal geometry of the existing development.’

Under the proposal, a central ‘jewel’ building with an enclosed formal residential courtyard will be surrounded by brick buildings that will offer an architectural counterpoint to the main building.

‘Rather than create a facsimile of the listed façade, our proposal preserves the repetition and rhythm but reinterprets the hexagonal effect of the existing elevation with full-height angled façade components that evoke the original pattern but offer a constantly changing façade throughout the day through relief and shadow,’ Bertie said.

In the competition for the scheme, Broadway Malyan beat Scott Brownrigg, HLM and Pollard Thomas Edwards to land the job last year.

Birds Eye Foods office building, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey: one of the internal courtyards with ornamental pool - picture taken 1963

Birds Eye Foods office building, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey: one of the internal courtyards with ornamental pool - picture taken 1963

Source: John Maltby/RIBA Collections

Birds Eye Foods office building, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey: one of the internal courtyards with ornamental pool - picture taken 1963

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Another knee jerk chicken response from the 20th Century Society and local "experts". The 60s were a bad decade for architecture, with a primitive understanding of technology, cheap energy supplies, and a reliance on asbestos for insulation. Things have moved on. The world has changed. Even architects are better trained, with a greater understanding of our responsibilities now. Well done Broadway Malyan, looks good from here, although I haven't visited the site. The 20th Century Society should concentrate on preserving the great buildings from the last century?

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