From large school and university buildings to a small fitness studio, the RIBA Awards story in the East Midlands is all about good collaboration, spirit of place and fine craftsmanship. Robert Evans introduces the region. Click on the images to find out more
The simplistic media concept of ‘the north-south divide’ can make the East Midlands seem ‘nowhere in particular’. Historically, its competing medium-sized industrial cities mean East Midlanders don’t like being lumped together. A 1994 administrative construct by the Major government, the East Midlands stretches from moorland Glossop via Skegness to Milton Keynes. Its lack of cohesiveness was exemplified by a recent flaccid debate on possible devolution, with cities bickering; the airport was briefly appropriated by Nottingham, before being re-designated ‘East Midlands’.
If there is a defining characteristic it might be its rich industrial heritage, which is still the source of much architectural work in the region. Protected former industrial buildings need new purposes, so imaginative reuse is an important aspect of practice.
As in other regions, East Midlands architecture schools experience a brain-drain of talent to London. Fortunately, local practices have good links to those schools, with many teaching to supplement income. This is crucial in generating some osmosis of ideas from metropolitan visitors and overseas academics.
Possibly the most significant recent public building is the Derby Arena, an out-of-town multi-purpose velodrome. It is hoped this will partially fill the cultural void left by Casson Conder’s brutalist set piece, the Assembly Rooms, abandoned after a fire.
The regional branch of the RIBA recently moved back from Lincoln to Nottingham. Great credit is due to the commitment of RIBA members from distant corners who attend its events. The move is already showing signs of increased participation and an emerging architectural culture. An example of this is the forthcoming ‘Nott Forgotten’ Design Challenge, a series of forgotten spaces in Nottingham: the winning entry will be constructed. Young architects are getting together and beginning to help establish some sense of that elusive quality, a regional identity.
Robert Evans is practice director of Evans Vettori Architects, Matlock