Birmingham seizes its moment to drive real change | Opinion

Seeing the energy and collaborative spirit in Birmingham ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games has been an incredible experience. It showed me the combined power of community, architecture and city-making to touch – and enrich – people’s lives, at scales and durations that far exceed any project.

We at Glenn Howells Architects are extremely proud to have played our part in the development of such an example, the Perry Barr residential project, alongside our client Birmingham City Council and project partners Arcadis and Lendlease Construction.

Perry Barr is a legacy building project for Birmingham that will have a lasting positive impact for the city and its people. Not only will it provide much-needed accommodation in a new neighborhood center for current and future residents, but it will also create new jobs, improve local skills and open up additional learning opportunities, substantially meeting the ambitious charter of social value defined by the city. .

Perry Barr, a suburb north of Birmingham, was until 10 years ago the campus of Birmingham City University. However, once the university began to move its campus to the center of the city, the withdrawal of the student population, coupled with a lack of economic growth, led to the decline of this local center.

Subsequently, the city identified Perry Barr in its strategic plan as an area requiring long-term intervention, with recent public sector investments in active transportation and green infrastructure being a catalyst to accelerate this plan.

A typical urban wasteland, locally and urbanly disconnected, Perry Barr was ideally positioned to benefit from this investment; a unique opportunity to transform this local center and take it with the city on a journey of renewal.

However, with the delivery time coinciding with the Covid-19 pandemic, the city council faced many challenges. He had to bring together the project team and the management contractor to deliver the residential project, as well as lead stakeholder engagement and manage procurement for delivery.

The tight schedule of reviews, approvals and coordination only encouraged the team to work closely together

All of this in addition to delivering other projects, including the Alexander Stadium, a new bus interchange and major highway improvements – all equally important in an interconnected vision of city-wide regeneration. the city.

The Arcadis team rose to the challenge of delivering, and our experience with similar neighborhood-scale projects in Port Loop in the west of the city, and Royal Wharf and London City Island in London, made us a strong design partner. The tight schedule of reviews, approvals and coordination only encouraged the team to work closely together from the start.

The redevelopment plan for this area is to deliver 1,414 homes in the first phase, of which 968 are being built across the four plots under construction, and includes mixed tenure of affordable homes, both for sale on the market and building for rent, as well as houses for later living; a multigenerational offer from the start.

As this initial phase grows and flourishes as a new healthy and inclusive neighborhood, further phases will be unlocked as part of the Perry Barr 2040 Master Plan: A Vision for Legacy, leading to the possibility of build 5,000 houses in Perry Barr.

Perry_Barr_View1_Glenn Howells Architects - 'original concept model'

Since the project was entrusted to us, our energies have been focused on plot 7, the gateway plot to the new district. It is a family of five brick buildings, the tallest of which is 16 stories high. They are arranged to surround a common podium garden for residents and establish a new south-facing public forecourt with retail and amenities, linked to the redeveloped Perry Barr station.

The city’s bold but decisive approach to removing the concrete flyover has also opened up a new tree-lined promenade, setting the tone for this new development by laying the foundations for a more sustainable and human-centric urban realm. to develop.

Of course, each intervention had to be sensitive to the existing landscape, the built environment and the assets of the area. By retaining the existing population of mature trees, we helped orient open public spaces and street patterns around them, while planting many more trees, so that this urban dynamic could work alongside nature. , rather than in its place.

This first residential phase will create a pathway for ongoing and future regeneration and give all subsequent phases the best chance of success. Comprising a new park with a community center, tree-lined streets, local amenities, green transport infrastructure and active transport links, as well as a range of generous homes, this new landscape will be the catalyst for a significantly improved residential supply that serves the entire local community.

From a housing perspective, Perry Barr will propose new residential typologies for the local community

For us, the design was about creating meaningful redevelopment around the principles of environmental sustainability and community cohesion through shared public spaces, amenities and a community green at its heart. Designing from this central point allowed us to introduce design elements that function both as stand-alone features and as part of larger city-wide infrastructure networks.

These include active travel routes for cyclists and walkers, public transport links for quick connections to other places or access to green spaces for residents. Together with Port Loop, it reinforces how neighborhoods with a clear ’15 minute city’ philosophy can operate in Birmingham. As part of the ‘Our Future City Plan’ (replacing the Big City Plan launched in 2011), we hope it will become a blueprint for future developments, both locally and beyond.

From a housing perspective, Perry Barr will offer new residential typologies for the local community, including modern apartments and townhouses in contemporary brick buildings, catering to a mix of buyers and renters, including young families. The accommodation will offer good daylight levels, secure ground floor accommodation, adaptable layouts and generous private and communal amenities to help foster a healthy community – from resident lounges to shared podium gardens and roof terraces.

Working with Lendlease Construction and Vinci Construction on Plot 7, we explored innovative methods that would accelerate the construction program to help overlap the phasing of buildings within the plot. The simple, repeated details of the balconies, masonry and windows allowed for faster procurement from sub-contractors while maintaining the build quality of the design.

Perry Barr will not only become an attractive and healthy place to come to live, but a thriving, established and connected part of the wider city

The materiality and detailing is carefully considered and contemporary, yet still manages to capture the local rhythms and proportions of its local context – a clear language established from the outset.

An important factor in Perry Barr’s success will be ensuring that these amenities, combined with new residential homes, landscaping and travel infrastructure, are reframed to cater to a new population while supporting existing communities. Once these elements begin to come together, the neighborhood begins to become a hub, and the dynamics of urban planning begin to take over, Perry Barr will become not only an attractive and healthy place to come to live, but a thriving part of it. , established and connected. of the larger city.

Designing cityscapes is as much about shaping moments in time as it is about shaping space, and we’re delighted to have played our part in that process, seizing the moment to ensure that Perry Barr continues to be a sustainable and community-centered neighborhood. , embodying Birmingham’s aspirations and ambitions as a leading international city.

About Octavia A. Dorr

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