Work is under way on one of the most prominent regeneration schemes in Birmingham city centre – with architects promising an “exemplar” student housing development.
Alumno Developments is investing £30 million to deliver a canalside scheme at Eastside Locks, which will be one of the first prominent buildings visitors see as they arrive at the proposed HS2 Curzon Street Station.
Architect Dav Bansal, of city practice Glenn Howells, said Birmingham had been poorly served with student accommodation but promised a student housing scheme to compete with any other.
Preparation work has begun on the site, with Eastside Locks landowner Goodman expected to follow with an office development in time.
The Alumno scheme will see about 625 student homes built next to the two Birmingham City University (BCU) buildings.
However, Mr Bansal said he had taken care to ensure it did not become a student quarter entirely, with retail and incubation spaces on prominent wings of the building, which is on the main walkway to Eastside City Park.
“It was important to me not to just create a student-focused area,” Mr Bansal said.
“BCU has gone away from the Perry Barr campus, which was quite inward-looking and self-contained, and come into the city core to be a part of the city’s fabric.
“You don’t feel like you are in a university park, and you won’t feel like you are on a university campus here.”
He added: “The great decision about BCU moving to Eastside means there is now footfall between those buildings and the park.
“By moving the university out there it widens the borders of the city it creates a footflow from the business community.”
Goodman is already carrying out infrastructure work and will also oversee road and canal work on the scheme, known as No1 Eastside Locks.
It is part of wider plans for Eastside Locks which received outline planning consent in 2008, which promised to make far more of the canalside location.
Alumno is expected to be on site by November with enabling works, with completion before the end of 2016 of a scheme with six buildings, the highest of which stretches 17 storeys.
The firm is currently in talks with contractors over carrying out the work and will also talk to BCU about a long-term lease for the building.
Mr Bansal said: “This is a prominent site on a gateway to the city and overlooking the HS2 station. This will be one of the first buildings you will see when travelling in from London, so it is important to have something prominent and somewhere where there is activity.
“It will also be next to the only vehicular entrance into the station, so it is going to be a major part of the city.
“The building will really make something of that corner and will also reflect the curvature of the canal.”
The scheme will have private west-facing courtyards overlooking the canal, as well as public realm areas.
There will be incubation spaces on the wings of the building, near to Curzon Street and on Pound Square, and a giant cycle parking area.
Plans show the entrance fronts onto the canal while it will be tall enough so you can see it over the BCU building when looking from the park.
Mr Bansal said the work will bring the £11.7 million park closer to the city core.
He said it was an important development to encourage an environment where students interact with the private sector in the city, similar to around King’s Cross in London.
He said: “At King’s Cross you have got Google moving in there and lots of other major firms and there is a real corporate environment in relation to the student housing. You can imagine that the aspiration was to create something that felt part of the regeneration of an enhanced environment.
“If you don’t give students a responsible environment in among the community and businesses then what do you expect from them? This is putting students at the heart of regeneration in an environment where they feel involved and feel a responsibility to the wider city.”
Mr Bansal said some of the city’s worst examples of architecture were student housing – citing one building where windows were painted onto the wall.
He said: “This city doesn’t have a lot of good student housing, but the quality of these buildings are as important as offices or university buildings.
“Alumno will maintain the buildings throughout, so this is a long-term investment for them and they understand that good design gets the city on-side. It also changes the students’ mindset. You will leave a building as you find it – if you are in a dreadful room you will treat it as such, but if you are in a nice, responsible, environment then you will treat it better.
“They want a building that will still look great in 25 years’ time.”
He added: “This scheme is an exemplar for the whole UK. We have been working with the university and the students to deliver what they want.
“They talked to us about a range of clusters – so groups of seven friends can all live in a cluster and so can groups of two or three – and that is what we have done.”
Alumno has carried out workshops with BCU students as part of the planning process.
Mr Bansal said the initiative would add much-needed activity in Eastside after hours and present a vibrant image of the city to HS2 passengers.
He said: “When the university closes down, after eight or nine o’clock, there will still be a lot of life in that area.
“The students will have living spaces overlooking the city and looking back from the city you will see lots of activity there.
“There are communal areas at the ends of the buildings, overlooking HS2, which will show animated living spaces.”
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