Study Trip 2019

Curbing our carbon footprint

Having signed up to the Architects’ Declare climate manifesto earlier this year, being mindful of our carbon footprint we decided against taking flights for our 2019 study trip and headed for some creative inspiration closer to home. Our much anticipated annual study trip is our time to team build, add to our professional development and inform our architectural design thinking. 

Invited to visit the renovation of the historic Flaxmill Maltings in Shrewsbury, we made this the starting point for a packed programme of art, history and architecture, from medieval Shrewsbury to Birmingham, “the Workshop of the World”

Worcester

So we all piled into the minibus, and set off on a promisingly sunny afternoon up the M5 to Worcester and our first stop The Hive, designed by our neighbours at FCB Studios. Unusually this building combines both University and Public Library. Sunlight glinted on the seven unique cone forms comprising the roof (inspired by the kilns of the historic Royal Worcester works and the undulating ridge of the Malvern Hills) and was reflected by the golden scales of the cladding. We were impressed by the fantastic sustainability credentials and the beautifully calm interior of concrete and ash.

Study Trip 2019

Shrewsbury

By the time we arrived in Shrewsbury it was getting dark and just in time for the most atmospheric night walk from the Castle at the top of the town down to the river through the narrow medieval alleys, and streets lined with lovely Georgian townhouses. Our guide was Alistair Godfrey, who would be taking us around the Flaxmill Maltings the next day, and his knowledge of Shrewsbury and its quirkier side was fascinating.
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The next morning we met Alistair at the Flax Mills. Alistair is project director for English Heritage and he told us all about the renovation before we donned hard hats to explore the separate buildings that make up the site.

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It was a real treat to see how the world’s very first metal-framed building was being brought back to life and to learn about the history of the mills through the industrial revolution from Flax mill to Maltings from such a knowledgeable source. So a huge thank you to Alistair and we look forward to a return visit on completion.

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Walsall

The bright lights of Birmingham beckoned but we felt we couldn’t pass Walsall without dropping in on the New Art Gallery, designed by  Caruso St John. Even though it is now almost 20 years old it remains an exciting contemporary structure. Spencer was impressed:

“I really liked the Walsall art gallery, it was wearing really well, the patina of use seemed to be improving it – some really intriguing spaces within what looks like a simple cube of a building”.

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West Bromich

One more stop off before Birmingham, in wet and windy West Bromwich, and a building some described as the low point of the trip, Will Alsop’s The Public, former Arts Centre now a Sixth Form College. Matched only by the neighbouring Sprinkles Gelato shop front, we mused.

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Birmingham

Once we had negotiated the traffic diversions in the ‘motor city’ of the Midlands, the hotel was a welcome rest (and Livia’s favourite building, although unsure whether that was the architecture or the breakfast), before immersing ourselves in Brummie culinary culture in the Balti Triangle. Lauren’s favourite moment.

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The next day after a hearty, aforementioned, breakfast, we abandoned Chris to the rugby world cup and set off through the Mailbox to the canal basins (via Make’s The Cube) where we piled onto a narrowboat to cruise just a small part of the huge network of waterways in and around the city to get a sense of Birmingham’s industrial heritage and to see how Birmingham is responding to the challenges of industrial decline with emerging new developments. Chris had caught up with us by then, very happy with “England boshing Australia” in the quarter final.

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Amongst the stand out buildings of our walking tour were the Victorian Gothic Revival forms of the Grade I Law Courts and the wonderful, derelict Grade II* Methodist Central Hall (Matt and Hilary failing to find a legal way in to explore the interior). The red bricks and terracotta mouldings looked as good as new even if the roofs had trees growing out of them. The over the top complexity and sumptuous detailing of these buildings demonstrated the pride and craft of the Victorians that built them. It is difficult to see how well the shiny new Birmingham buildings will fare in comparison.
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The new Birmingham Conservatoire by FCB Studios (2018 RIBA National Award) was also notable. The private and intense world of rehearsal had been brought together with the public world of performance in a welcoming and accessible space. A peek into the beautifully detailed Bradshaw Concert Hall was well worth it.

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The Library by Mecanoo also had its moments. Clearly a lot of money had been spent on the exterior, a filigree façade of interlocking metallic circles, ensuring it stood out from its neighbours, the brutalist Birmingham Rep on one side and the rather austere Civic Centre on the other. We thought the roof top gardens were beautifully planted and designed, although the main ground floor space was a bit disappointingly finished. The building gave the impression of a mini city within, tying in with the architect’s vision of a ‘People’s Palace’. Overall a thumbs up and an opportunity for a bit of sketching.
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Looping back to the city centre and the iconic Rotunda, the Selfridges Slug (sorry Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete), New Street Station (AZPML) divided opinion.

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After negotiating the new Bullring Shopping Centre on a Saturday afternoon (consumerism on a massive scale), we found ourselves in dire need of refreshment so we quickly diverted to once gritty, now bohemian Digbeth and the creative Custard Factory environs. Highlights included the street art, bar/barber’s and the wonderful Digbrew Company Beer and Taproom – with thanks to Lauren for the discovery.

Highlights of our last day were the discovery of Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ Birmingham University Sports Centre, another RIBA National Award winner and Lauren’s favourite building and the stunning Coventry Cathedral, Alex and Matt’s favourite.

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Coventry Cathedral

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Exactaform

Lastly, we took the opportunity to visit one of Designscape’s own buildings near Coventry, a production facility and HQ built recently for Exactaform Cutting Tools, a company specialising in diamond tipped precision cutting tools. Only those who had been managing the project had visited before so it was great to see the bricks and mortar first hand instead of the CAD. We were clearly colour coordinated for our visit!

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Wending our way back to Bath, weary but buzzing with inspiration and creativity, it seemed that the all-round winning building from our low carbon 2019 Study Trip was the New Art Gallery, Walsall, and the most popular favourite experience, the Digbrew Company Beer and Taphouse. Roll on next year!

Project Information.

Designscape on tour. A roundup of our low carbon Study Trip to the Midlands where we were inspired by Industrial, Gothic Revival and modern architecture.