A much-delayed major overhaul by Hawkins\Brown of the University of Reading’s ‘Lego Building’ has been put on hold indefinitely in favour of a light-touch revamp following heritage concerns
In 2015 the firm won a £670,000 contract to retrofit the landmark, a 1970s Brutalist concrete building designed by Howell, Killick, Partridge & Amis.
Officially called the URS building – it once housed the faculty of Urban and Regional Studies – the distinctive concrete structure has long been earmarked to become the new home of the School of Architecture.
Hawkins\Brown’s design set out to ‘reimagine’ the Howell, Killick, Partridge & Amis building and was originally supposed to be completed in 2018.
However this week the university announced it was launching a new contest for a £50,000-£60,000 contract to deliver a ’cosmetic’ upgrade, instead of a major refurbishment.
Alarm bells first rang over the potential impact on the building’s heritage in 2016, when it received a Grade II-listing following an application by The Twentieth Century Society.
A further blow came in October 2018 when Historic England told the local planning committee the practice’s proposals would result in ’substantial harm to the significance of this Grade II building’.
The body said: ’In our view the most harmful element is the infilling of the covered walkway on the north elevation’
A revised plan to only partially enclose the walkway was explored with the local planning authority but this too was ruled out, according to university sources.
The scheme has also been affected by the renovation of the nearby university library with the URS building becoming a temporary study centre for students displaced from the library.
The ongoing delays to the URS building project raises the question of whether the architecture department, currently at a site on London Road, will have enough room when the new academic year starts.
’Architecture will outgrow the current total space allocation in London Road, on current growth projections, from the start of the 2019/20 academic year’, the contest brief said.
A university spokesperson said: ’We are proud of the URS building and were pleased that its iconic status was recognised by planners.
’However it was disappointing that the listing meant key parts of the Hawkins\Brown designs would need to be significantly changed. In time, we will submit revised plans, but while the major project is currently on hold, we are likely to do some minor works in the interim.’