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Birmingham New Street architect reveals story behind fallout

Alejandro Zaera-Polo, whose firm AZPML had been involved in plans for the station’s central atrium, has lifted the lid on the reasons for his change of heart.

Alejandro Zaera-Polo

 

Renowned architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo, who quit design work on the £600 million New Street Station revamp, has told of his “complete disagreement” with Network Rail.

The design guru, whose London and New York-based firm AZPML had been involved in plans for the station’s central atrium, has lifted the lid on the reasons for his change of heart.

Speaking for the first time over the issue, the architect has accused project managers of ‘making design decisions unilaterally and wthout proper analysis.’

His criticisms follow claims by architect Philip Singleton, chief executive of Millennium Point, that the new atrium design would resemble a ‘Paul Smith suit with a Primark lining’ with a ‘crass and timid’ restyling.

Mr Zaera-Polo has told the Post of his fears for the future of the central atrium design, now to be undertaken by London-based Haskoll – and of his ‘public duty’ in deciding to walk away.

The architect said: “I do not know what the impact will be, as I have not seen the design they are developing. This is not about Haskoll versus us, although I believe that it is always much better to get the concept designer design the details.

“It depends on whether Haskoll is also forced to use fabrics to clad parts of the structure or not, and of many other details that have to do with the geometry of the arches and the joints.

“I do not think it is possible to stick to the design concept using fabrics, because the design concept is about continuity of the arches as the elements that link the new roof with the existing structure of the building.

“Because of fire regulations and durability, the fabric cannot be brought all the way to the ground, and therefore, the lower part of the arches, and the atrium elements will have to be clad in some other fire-resistant and durable material.

“I do not think that Haskoll or anybody can solve this problem using a hybrid solution with fabrics. It is simply the wrong instruction.”

 

He said the change of materials would make educated people ‘cringe’.

“I do not think this is a question of brands or price, but of design, the use of appropriate materials and the consistency of the details,” he added.

“It is up to Network Rail and Birmingham City Council to decide the kind of public they want to cater for, but given the fact that there is no substantial price difference, if any at all, I do not see the point of going for the wrong detailing.”

“It is a mistake to allow the project managers to make design decisions unilaterally and without a proper analysis. They will obviously go for the easier and the faster, but the project will never become cheaper once the budget has been agreed.”

He warned that the fabric elements could wear out ‘differently from the plasterboard’.

“When we were asked to develop a fabric option, we did not just ignore the request. We did some research and found out that the more durable fabrics were not guaranteed for more than 15 years, and their durability was estimated in 30 years by the suppliers.

“Our role in this project is to ensure the delivery of the design concept and the performance specifications, and the instruction from NR/MACE was against both, so we could not accept it.

"As professionals we have duties to our client, but we have also duties to the public which we could not perform if we had accepted the instruction.”

He said AZPML was still involved in the steel cladding of the project. “We hope to be able to stay till the end of the project, despite our complete disagreement with the management in respect to the atrium cladding.”

Network Rail said in a statement: “AZPML was involved in early concept design stages for the interior of the atrium. However we have now chosen to work with Haskoll as interior design architect for the atrium and the Grand Central shopping centre. There are no plans to change the concept design of the atrium, which will flood Birmingham New Street station with natural light for the first time when completed.

“We are looking at alternative solutions for cladding the interior of the atrium more efficiently, but any change will not compromise the design or quality of the development.”

 

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