Five years in the Making continued...
As we approach her latest masterpiece, Gannon assures me that the three shades of external cladding adjust in tone to reflect the Birmingham sky and sure enough, when we exit the facility after an hour or two of illuminating explanations the façade is decidedly duller; a clear reflection of the now threatening heavens. This play on external factors continues inside. I use the term ‘inside’ loosely as once one enters into the lower retail portion of the building it becomes apparent that the boundaries between internal and external space are quite blurred.
The central core of the building is open to the elements, twisting as it rises to reveal a cross section of the four main functions housed within: retail, office, residential and hotel. These four lower floors are open to the public 24/7 and one would expect them to be already buzzing with curious Midlanders, excited by the possibilities afforded by such a extravagant new scheme. This is not the case however, despite the fact that The Mailbox is only a stone’s throw away and teaming with youngsters.
When I question this, Make’s highly knowledgeable PR rep is quick to assure me that this is likely to be down to the fact that they are yet to host the big opening and that locals may well be unaware that the complex is now complete. Once the shops and so forth are in it’ll be swarming. I want to believe her but it must be questioned whether such an ‘out there’ project is a step too far for this city.
Onwards and upwards, and past a handful of stunningly detailed bronze figures with oversized hearts where their heads should be. Cast from real people by locally born artist Temper, these intricate sculptures are astonishingly lifelike despite the choice of material (which actually contrasts rather well with the sheer volume of glass throughout the lower floors) and symbolic heart-shaped heads.
This lower section consists of a below-grade spa level (owned by the hotel company occupying space towards the top of the building), several floors of high end retail and a level of small commercial studios. Above this are two huge open-plan office spaces topped with private apartments. These residential floors are split horizontally into buy-to-rent and buy-to-live, those facing inwards adorned with generous balconies or terraces from which the occupants can gaze downwards into the whirlpool of activity at the base. This said, they are also startlingly exposed to infinite quantities of public interaction as office workers and indeed anyone who decides to make the journey up to the viewing platform in the building’s ‘crown’ can easily glance down onto the residents’ ‘private’ balconies.
Last week, a pivotal moment occurred for Gannon and her team – in moved the first resident, pot plants and all. The project architect points out this miniature buzz of activity from the aforementioned ‘crown’ with ill-disguised excitement, clearly pleased to see her new building come to life. Neil Edginton, Director of the client group (Birmingham Development Company), later explains that The Cube has already been partially sold to tenants, another 18 of which will be moving in this week. It seems that these hard economic times have done little to defer business, with the Highways Agency moving their employees into half of the available office space whilst work was still being completed on the roof.
As the prosperity of this project begins to sink in, Edginton reveals that they are currently taking a break from accepting new offers for residential space, hinting that interest may be waning in the housing sector. He does however suggest that the commercial space is been inundated with offers, seemingly easier to shift than apartments that initially went on the market for £500 per sq m.
Eager to experience the residential facilities first hand we headed down to view duplex, one bedroom and studio apartments. Whilst the spaces are undeniably well fitted out, this is certainly not one for the claustrophobic as space is in rather short supply. Individualists will be pleased to hear that no two of the 244 apartments are the same, with minute details and alternating placement of windows ensuring each is unique in its own right.
In a highly built up area such as Birmingham, parking one’s car can be a bother, however Make have solved this irritating issue by incorporating an automated parking facility into the complex. Whilst this attendant-free scheme has been popular in cities such as Sydney, New York and Budapest, it is yet to take off in the UK. This may be set to change though as the presentation given by Edginton (using an unsuspecting employee’s vehicle) was faultless. Drive in, car removed smoothly and efficiently by automated machinery into a 339-space storage unit. Return later, swipe allocated key fob and wait for instructions on one of two television screens delegating a specific garage. Travel no more than 100m to said garage, wait 2minutes for vehicle to be brought up and spun to face the direction of travel. Drive out no questions asked, no obsequious valet, no fuss. This may be the beginning of a UK parking revolution.
Look out for an exclusive video interview with Ken Shuttleworth and Neil Edginton coming soon to WAN.
Credits: Make, Buro Happold, Faithful & Gould, Hoare Lea
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