University of Nottingham – prolific developer!

There was news yesterday that the University of Nottingham officially opened the new ‘Grace’ building on Triumph Road – which I blogged about before.

The Grace Building Nottingham

Designed by a local team – including Mabers, d3Shipway and Price & Myers I think is a really great example of a practical building which looks great. I drive by it each day on my way home – and I think it looks even better at night.

Of course the really clever stuff goes on inside – it is a world class centre for studying Global Positioning Systems. Our lives have become dependent on GPS – which is now a pretty unremarkable tool. My phone uses the technology.

I commented on an imagemakers blog about map reading last week when I was debating with Phil Songhurst about the next wave of GPS – augmented reality. The latter will be a fantastic tool which I believe will change the face of how we find our way around!

We should also remind ourselves that the University have been building on the Triumph Road site now for many years, since purchasing the old Raleigh site. The building programme has continued apace through all manner of market conditions!

I was privileged last week to be shown a building on the main University campus which has been renovated for use by VIP visitors to the University. I have to say that the results were visually stunning – at 5-star hotel standard. But what also struck me was that the building had been ‘properly’ refurbished respecting the original features. Corners had not been cut. I would love to stay there!

A few years ago I was asked by a University client to help them with a report to their Governors – who wanted to know why their build costs were higher than those on a typical business park setting. What was apparent was that general offices (like my own) are well built – to a price. The developer knows there is a quality standard to achieve the optimum rental and capital values. The Universities are not driven by this; they have a long term game play. So the materials tend to be better and the design can be more adventurous.

The day I met the Prince!

One of the proudest achievements in my professional life was my involvement in acquiring the former Devonshire Royal Hospital from the NHS for Derby University in 2000. I got to meet Prince Charles at the opening! And even today the building still wows me every time I go.

What I really liked about Grace (which is at the opposite end of the architectural scale to the Buxton jewel) is that it clearly is a ‘box’, but the use of light and colour lifts it so that it really is better than an office.

We shouldn’t forget the contribution the Education sector contributes to our built environment – as well as providing bright Graduates!

Nottingham Contemporary – I wanted to hate it….

I managed to get a very quick look around the new Nottingham Contemporary yesterday. I was pushed for time, but my mate John Lyle had text me earlier in the week to say how much he hated it. So I thought I had better see what the fuss was about.

Nottingham Contemporary - Lace patterned concrete

I have to say that I carried my prejudices in with me in a large suitcase (with wheels). I think the external facade is hideous. And as a gateway into the city I am not sure that it gives a good impression. I particularly dislike the cast concrete with its lace pattern – it already is beginning to attract the dirt. There are acres of the green concrete and the street scene is pretty awful. And does it sit well in its surroundings? No. It really is a blot.

The hideous sign at Nottingham Contemporary

So, what of the inside? Well it has the current vogue of certain architects – cast concrete by the cartload. I have a fear that it will date and if ‘green’ is your thing, concrete certainly isn’t. And I don’t mean the colour green – I mean the way of life! Concrete does not have a high sustainability factor. The quality of finish of concrete can be the difference between good and great. This is at the good end of the scale. The finish at Nottingham Trent University is great.

But this is exhibition space and thus big white boxes prevail. And thats what they are. There are a series of them. And they are…big and white. Not disappointed about that – but surely this is the easy bit? Even I can design a big white box!

I peeped in the cinema / performance space which looks ok. And the cafe was quite good. It has a mix of social and formal seating – the food was reasonably priced and quite tasty. The toilets were purple! And no sign of the Dyson hand dryers?

So my overall impression? It’s ok. They have done well to get the Hockney Exhibition – the Bigger Splash thingy is … big! The new retro ‘diner’ sign is completely out of context and I can’t help wonder what the planners were thinking. The outside is horrible, the inside passable, but not ‘wow’. And is was only double the price of its original budget… Only a ‘C’ for me then. And a scraped ‘C’ at that!

Architecture – the great divide pt.2

I blogged previously about how architecture divides us.

Abel Collins new bungalows designed by Marsh & Grochowski

New bungalows at Abel Collins Nottingham November 2009

This week is the official opening by the Sheriff of Nottingham of the four new bungalows I am involved in at Abel Collins Almshouses in Beeston Nottingham. I accept that they are not part of the sites vernacular architecture. But that I think is the point. The original houses were built on the site in the 1930’s, and then phases were constructed in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. They are of their time. The new bungalows certainly make a statement – and I am proud that they represent a 2009 legacy.

I took the photograph here yesterday morning and was quizzed by the son of one of our residents. He wanted to know what we were thinking – and what Prince Charles would have to say. Firstly, what we were thinking is that we had an opportunity to make a statement. Secondly, I personally dislike pastiche architecture and was keen to avoid replicating what went before. Thirdly, these are very sustainable – with green credentials – rainwater harvesting, a sedum roof, high levels of insulation, a low carbon footprint, solar shading and underfloor heating. The level of ‘green’ is somewhere between 25-44% better than the current Building Regulations require. What would Prince Charles say? He would think they were a Carbuncle no doubt. I respect his views, but don’t always agree with them. We have moved on and need to move on further if we are to hit our sustainability targets. Highgrove House won’t quite have the same levels of insulation! Nor is Poundbury, in my view, great architecture.

What really counts though is whether our residents will like living in them. In their current bare state they appear warm and light & airy. The rooms are well proportioned and the space will hopefully turn into a home for the new residents. Time will tell!


University of Nottingham Grace Building

As I was out with my camera, and the sky was fairly photogenic, I came back via The University of Nottingham Triumph Road Campus. I have been buying up land here for the University for many years. The latest building is the Centre for Geospatial Studies – lovingly known as GRACE. When it was being constructed I had a fear that it was going to be a ‘box’. But what has emerged is something really quite special. And yes – it is a box! But it demonstrates that with the use of colour and really good materials even a ‘box’ can look great.

Would either of these buildings worked in ‘brick and slate’…. I think not, but I am willing to be challenged. Architecture, like Art, is a matter of personal taste. A ‘marmite‘ moment! And it’s got people talking… which they tend not to do about our other houses and bungalows?

p.s. I love Marmite!

Can Buildings Inspire People?

Last month I found myself in front of a group of Sudanese college principals, vice principals and senior staff. My task –to explain what I do for my College clients. But also to impart something for them to take back home.

When I thought through what I do for a day job (valuation, landlord and tenant, dilapidations claims and asset management ) i realised it wasn’t going to transfer well. In fact, I quickly realised that much of what I do was just not done in Sudan.

My ‘class’ was incredibly polite and compliant. They listened intently, but were clearly lost – our western world was poles apart from what they do. Trying to explain the complexities of valuing buildings that have no real value in a true market sense was not a great title to start with!

It had been suggested to me that they enjoyed workshop sessions. It took me some time to try and come up with something that I thought I could ‘control’, but also that might give them something to take away!

One of my ‘hobby-horses’ is good architecture. Or at least a dislike of ‘average’ architecture. I think architecture should inspire – always, but particularly in the education sector. I should set the record straight here – I am not a ‘Poundbury’ person!

My question was ‘can a building inspire people’ – and if so, how. Simple really!

There is no doubt that a building can be inspirational. What emerged from the workshop was that you don’t always need to have a Libeskind or Gehry building (that would be great though).

EMP Seattle - Frank Gehry

EMP Seattle - Frank Gehry

Some of the messages that emerged from the discussion was that some simple things could help. The most obvious perhaps is that of ‘colour’. It is well documented that colour can affect mood. It can ‘uplift’ or ‘relax’. This is not an expensive solution and can be incorporated in a building easily. But, we also explored ‘detail’ – concentrating on details can have great payback. Obvious areas including signage and branding – making sure there is a simple consistency can make a difference to a building. And finally, ‘quality’ scored highly. The quality of a finish makes a building user proud.

Paul Smith Store - Los Angeles

Paul Smith Store - Los Angeles

Whilst you cannot always get 100% buy-in from building users (there will always be a disenfranchised group) – constructing or altering a building so that users notice it will generally make them feel good.

And perhaps that is the answer. Great architecture is where the users or occupiers feel good about their surroundings. And that in itself should inspire?

And three simple messages from my Sudanese students – colour, detail and quality. They can make a difference we believed collectively – and they were going to take those things home.