Tom Fleming spoke to Paul Scott from Make, the architects behind The Cube, about whether the scheme has what it takes to be described as iconic
Without even reaching full building height and with only under a year to go until completion, The Cube has already become fixed in the minds of many as an icon for the city and indeed the region.
Passed by thousands of people every day on their journey to, from and through The Mailbox, The Cube site is one of the most visible construction projects that Birmingham has witnessed.
Driven by social forces and the demand for economic growth and regeneration, Birmingham, like other global cities, has given rise to the demand for an icon, and Birmingham Development Company’s latest regeneration project almost certainly fits the bill.
In their very essence iconic buildings stand out from the crowd, push the boundaries and make an instant impression, often becoming a subject of discussion or controversy.
Although not complete, The Cube does tick all of these boxes but, unusually, its location and position next to a public footbridge has meant that that buzz among spectators began long before construction started.
The launch of the design competition that crowned Make – one of the UK’s foremost architectural firms founded by Ken Shuttleworth, the winning design team in 2005 – started the public thinking about the possibilities of The Cube, and even the excavation of the 20-metre hole caused a stir around the building before a brick was even laid.
Now, against all the economic odds, The Cube is well over halfway into the build programme that will be completed on schedule by mid-2010.
Passersby will have seen the first layers of the metallic anodised cladding installed to the lower levels of the building frame that is slowly bringing the building to life – without reaching anywhere near its full potential or vision, The Cube is already on its way to achieving the iconic status it craves.
Paul Scott, partner at Make and member of The Cube design team, believes that the building has what it takes to be considered an icon, although the public and indeed the critics have a lot more to see before the full design impact and complexities of The Cube are realised.
Mr Scott said: “From the outset we wanted to change the landscape by means other than the building itself, we also looked at the impact we will have on the surrounding area.
“As a signature architect working on a landmark and iconic development, one of our key aims was to ‘create a spectacular new front door that leads to the canal towpaths and city centre beyond’, actively drawing people through the site.
“Inspired by the jewellery and engineering heritage of Birmingham, the mathematically pure cubic structure is based on the concept of a jewellery box; intricate and decorative but protective and intriguing.
“To communicate this philosophy, the sophisticated cladding system that is already beginning to give the exterior façade shape was carefully developed to convey both the industrial and delicate character of the building.
“Working closely with contractor BuildAbility and specialist cladding sub-contractor Haga, the material and colour of the façade has been refined throughout the design process to ultimately achieve the subtle and sophisticated blend of light gold, silver and bronze panels.
“To further enhance The Cube’s appearance, the façade panels have three different depths, casting various shadows to add texture and grain.
“The natural, silver panels are the brightest possible shade external aluminium can be and stand out and project from the building the most.
“Although these panels glisten in the light, too many bright surfaces would reduce the perception of texture that the design team wanted to achieve, as the shadows cast are less clear.
“It was therefore decided that, in order to ensure the texture of the façade is expressed in the most dramatic way, a subtle palate of light gold for the mid-panel and bronze for the panels that project the least were chosen.
“As the building grows, the texture of the façade will be further animated by the changing light throughout the day and evening.
“The crowning glory of the glazed rooftop bar and restaurant will cut through the skyline, offering visitors an outstanding panoramic view and refracting light on to the cladding that will provide further stunning visual effects and reflections.”
Whilst giving the building a distinct external identity, the modular cladding system also plays a key role in the building’s environmental strategy, offering infinite flexibility to tailor the glazing of each façade in response to potential solar gain. Mr Scott added: “Meanwhile, installation of the pastel-coloured cladding that will be visible inside the building has taken place over the last few months. This will surround the twisting courtyard that will also draw natural light deep into the heart of the building and create interesting effects.
“With work due to begin shortly on the fretwork screen, the construction is nearing another physical milestone that will again transform the façade of the building, bringing it even closer to completion. For the design team The Cube really is a labour of love and there is a lot hard work underway to ensure that the team achieves this challenging vision.”