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News catch-up: Heatherwick plans something old, something new for Nottingham

Simon Aldous

Going up this week: Heatherwick combines old and new at Nottingham Broadmarsh and DS+R replaces Centre for Music with two office blocks. On the downside, axe hangs over Alsop’s Jersey beach café and Grenfell lawyer slams government blaming construction

Heatherwick Studio has unveiled its proposals for revamping Nottingham’s half-demolished Broadmarsh shopping centre. And in a move that will surely bring a warm glow to those keen to avoid any unnecessary demolition – Thomas Heatherwick’s practice wants to retain what remains of the shopping centre as the centrepiece of its scheme.

Writing in the RIBAJ Journal earlier this year, Nottingham-based architectural assistant Harry Tindale called the Broadmarsh ‘Nottingham’s most loathed building’. He recounted how developer Intu was in the process of tearing it down when the pandemic caused it to go into administration, leaving ‘a half-demolished 70s beige featureless block on the city’s most pivotal site’.

The site reverted to the ownership of Nottingham City Council which, five months ago, hired Heatherwick to transform the site, working with Stories, a ‘socially responsible’ development company.

The practice’s proposals focus on creating a major green space that weaves in and out of the shopping centre’s frame. Visualisations depict the ruined structure acting as a kind of vast pergola, swathed in greenery.

The £500 million scheme will also include 750 new homes, a hotel, shops, offices, conference facilities and leisure space – as well as overhauling Nottingham’s network of more than 500 sandstone caves, which lie under the city’s streets, carved out of the sandstone ground.

Heatherwick said the commission had been a chance to think about the failure of city centres, concluding that they should not just be about retail but about ‘bringing people together’.

The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright was sceptical, saying Heatherwick’s vision ‘could be straight out of a post-apocalyptic disaster movie, depicting the semi-ruined Broadmarsh shopping centre dripping with vines, as if reclaimed by nature’.

And he expressed caution that the green frame could prove a ‘novelty centrepiece of what otherwise appears to be a fairly bland commercial development around the rest of the site’.

The proposals came in the same week the practice announced a poor set of company results, Covid’s impact on large-scale commercial and cultural schemes write large. These showed that in the year to 31 March 2021, revenue fell 21 per cent to £31.1. million, pre-tax profit dropped 47 per cent to £2.9 million and average staff count fell from 205 to 158.

Heatherwick attributed the downturn to the pandemic, adding that the studio ‘assesses its performance primarily on the quality of its designs’.

Reusing the ruins of Broad Marsh in Nottingham.
Reusing the ruins of Broad Marsh in Nottingham. Credit: Heatherwick Studio

Diller Scofidio + Renfro designs offices for second scheme on Museum of London site

Nine months after the City of London scrapped Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s plans for a £288 million Centre for Music on the site of the current Museum of London, the practice has revealed new plans for the plot.

And whereas previously it was devising a spectacular pyramid-shaped concert hall with some offices attached; it is now proposing a pair of office buildings with a performance space at the top of one of them. How the City’s priorities have flipped.

The new plans mean Powell & Moya’s 1976 Museum of London building will still be demolished. The museum itself is moving to a new home half a mile away at Smithfield Market, designed by Stanton Williams and Asif Khan.

Defending the demolition, the City's Property Investment Board said the building was at the end of its design life and would require significant remedial work to bring it to modern fire and structural standards.

The proposed new buildings will feature green walls and be arranged around a central ‘bowl-shaped’ public garden.

Nevertheless, repurposing the museum site as offices will disappoint those who argue that the City has no need for further offices. As reported last week, City councillor Graeme Harrower has argued that building more offices simply creates a ‘flight to quality’ leaving the area with many functional but unwanted properties.

Will Alsop’s Jersey café faces demolition

A café on the island of Jersey designed by the late Will Alsop is set to be demolished as part of plans to improve flood defences.

The coastal café, La Frégate, completed in 1997, is a wooden structure resembling an upturned ship. It was designed by Alsop & Störmer working with Mason Design Partnership, based on an initial sketch by Alsop.

The demolition is part of a redevelopment plan by the Jersey Development which involves building around 1,000 homes in south-west Helier where the café lies. Its removal is deemed necessary to raise the nearby sea wall by more than a metre and protect the new homes from flooding.

Alsop’s former business partner Jan Störmer told the Architects’ Journal he hoped it could be moved to another location on the island. But Derek Mason, of co-designer Mason Design Partnership, was doubtful this would be possible, saying the building would collapse if this was attempted.

He said the café should remain where it was, telling the AJ: ‘Nothing will happen to it – as long as I live, anyway.’

Speaking in favour of the café’s preservation, heritage campaigner Marcus Binney, who is president of Save Jersey’s Heritage, said: ‘Will Alsop brought fun into British architecture and an island seaside resort should recognise this better than anyone else.’

Twentieth Century Society director Catherine Croft, meanwhile, called the café ‘a fun, imaginative design’, adding: “There is a real tradition of letting rip with seaside structures, and we should be embracing it as part of that joyful legacy.

Grenfell inquiry lawyer criticises government apology

The government has apologised for its role in the Grenfell Tower fire, while seeking to suggest that its primary error was being so foolish as to trust the construction industry.

Acting for the government, lawyer Jason Beer told the ongoing inquiry the government had ‘trusted’ that the builders, inspectors and suppliers were ‘following the law and doing the right thing’ and that it had taken a tragedy to ‘lay bare that this trust was both misplaced and abused’.

But Stephanie Barwise, lawyer for some of the Grenfell bereaved, told the inquiry that the government had ‘colluded’ with the construction industry for decades in its ‘exploitations of the regulations’.

In particular, she drew attention to the Lakanal House fire, which killed six people in 2009, having spread via combustible cladding panels in a similar way to the Grenfell fire.

A coroner’s report into that fire in 2013 recommended a review of building guidance Approved Document B. This was the document that appears to endorse the use of the ACM panels that were fitted to Grenfell. Yet the Lakanal coroner’s advice was not acted on by the government, which at the time was pursuing a rigorous ‘bonfire of the building regulations’ with prime minister David Cameron anxious to get rid of what he saw as ‘red tape’.

Barwise said her clients rejected the government’s implication that its failure to update the regulations had been an accident. She described the failure as ‘cynical’ and motivated by a desire to protect the insulation industry. 

Meanwhile, Mercedes has dropped its sponsorship deal with Kingspan, one of the manufacturers of the combustible cladding that caused the Grenfell fire to spread. This followed widespread criticism when Lewis Hamilton drove a car displaying a Kingspan logo during the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix earlier this month.




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