Holding the Fort
Last week, I had a visit to Fort Dunlop. By which, I do not mean The Fort Shopping Centre; or, as old Dunlop hands would say, the whole site previously occupied by the Dunlop tyre factory. The building I actually mean is the one-time tyre warehouse, now marketed by the redevelopers Urban Splash as “Fort Dunlop”, prominently visible from the M6 motorway and the railway between Birmingham and Derby.
The building was derelict for a long period until Urban Splash were asked to investigate the possibility of redevelopment in the late 1990s. Eventually, they came into control of the whole project, and appointed Merseyside architects shedkm to produce a landmark building. They succeeded.
As part of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) Architecture Week, interested parties were offered the chance to have a conducted tour of the building by the architect responsible for the work. It was quite an opportunity to see before and after photographs, to listen to the architect describing the rationale behind the decisions that were taken about the building, and to get boots on the ground to see what had been done.
Like many Urban Splash buildings, interior photography is encouraged. We had the opportunity to chat to the facilities manager and he was justly proud of his building (something we have found with other Urban Splash developments in the past).
Although early plans from the clients, English Partnerships, toyed with the idea of making the development wholly or partially residential, in the end the building became wholly commercial, with a handful of retail outlets – though these were aimed squarely at either servicing the building (a sandwich shop, a crèche and a trendy bike shop) or at making the building a destination site for specific clients (trendy London furniture shops and a Travelodge, exploiting the location close to the M6 but – in the case of the latter – making a rather up-market experience out of having a cheap hotel room).
The keynote features of the building are the lighting shaft into the centre of the building (it was referred to as an atrium, but it was hardly that), the “blue wedge” that formed the new services core for the building and which was extended outside the existing structure to form the Travelodge itself, and the rooftop promenade, which gives workers in the building an open space for them to use and offers quite remarkable views, including the M6, the Jaguar factory (once the wartime Castle Bromwich Spitfire plant) and on the horizon, Birmingham city centre. Parallels were drawn with an ocean liner… The building also lies beneath one of the approaches to Birmingham airport, which would make it ideal for plane spotters.
All in all an interesting visit, which made it all the more disappointing that there were only three of us.
Meanwhile, I’ve spent the weekend just gone at various events, networking. Which was just as well, because I didn’t actually sell anything…