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Digbeth

2018-present

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Creating an independent, individual and industrious community for Birmingham.
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Creating an independent, individual and industrious community for Birmingham.

Strategy

Digbeth is a historic neighbourhood with its heritage rooted in trade, industry, craft and making. It is now a creative hub within Birmingham and home to a rich array of small businesses and activities, including design, making, art, tech, innovation, music, film production, gaming, and education.

Location:
Birmingham
Client:
Oval
Aerial BW
Much of the site today has become run down with numerous abandoned buildings and vacant plots
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In a close collaboration with our client, Oval, we’ve led the hybrid planning application for 42 acres of Digbeth which provides a framework and long-term vision that conserves the rich heritage of the past, while enhancing public realm and creating dynamic new buildings that will support Birmingham’s eclectic communities of the future, where the anticipated arrival of HS2 will place the City at a gateway to both the UK and European high speed rail network.

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Sketch view of illustrative framework

The Custard Factory and Bond Company will be reimagined, the River Rea exposed, the canal celebrated, Fazeley Street and Floodgate Street reactivated and Brunel’s Duddeston Viaduct turned into a new publicly accessible sky park, Viaduct Park. Up to 2.2 million square feet of commercial space and 1850 homes will be provided alongside shops, restaurants, cafés and additional leisure facilities creating over 16,000 new jobs and boosting the local Birmingham economy and wider West Midlands area.

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View of Floodgate Street looking north, where pedestrian movement is prioritised

We’ve worked as urban designers and landscape architects for the whole site, and architect for multiple buildings including the commercially led Wild Works. As recognition of the area’s diversity of architecture, we’ve collaborated with local practices Glenn Howells Architects and BPN Architects who have developed designs for several plots to ensure the rich and varied character of Digbeth is retained going forward.

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View from West Midlands train looking down Floodgate Street
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View from the southern end of Floodgate Street looking towards The Custard Factory extension and the new Custard Factory Living building (detailed designs by Glenn Howells Architects)

Throughout all of this work, an extensive engagement programme has taken place. Led by Turley - who have also provided heritage and planning support –we’ve been part of extensive conversations with Birmingham City Council and the sites diverse mix of the tenants, local land owners, Canal and River Trust and a number of key local stakeholder groups over an 18 month period of consultation, with the feedback from these discussions helping to shape the framework principles.

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Bordesley Railway - View travelling towards Birmingham city centre

Specificity

Digbeth has an existing landscape setting like no other and through our proposals we aim to respect this whilst nurturing a new phase of its life. Two key routes, crossing the site from east to west and north to south, will mark the heart of the development. These routes prioritise pedestrian movements and encourage ground floor activities to spill out into the public space, improving permeability and vibrancy of the streetscape, and providing connections to future transport nodes. The north- south route, running along Floodgate Street, will connect Deritend High Street to the canal. The new East-West route will create a more direct link to the City Centre opening a new connection through the site and linking Bordesley to Allcock Street.

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Proposed Floodgate Street elevations: (Top) East elevation, north section; (Bottom) West elevation, south section
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View out from the disused Duddeston viaduct

New buildings will respond to the character, scale and features of the historic fabric, whilst new life will be breathed into the assortment of redundant and unused heritage structures, including the Duddeston viaduct which will be transformed into a new elevated linear park, Viaduct Park.

Here, a mix of informal urban green spaces through to more natural and wild spaces will create different atmospheres and enrich the journey experience along the viaduct, creating a verdant destination within the city centre and opening up new views across Digbeth and the city centre.

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View along Viaduct Park
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View of Viaduct Park with a new event space in background

The historic and ecological values of Digbeth waterways, the River Rea and Grand Union Canal, will also be revealed and celebrated by the framework, with a series of open spaces along the waters edges inviting people to step down, enjoy and rediscover these natural assets.

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View of River Rea

To the south-west of the site, a tapestry of commercial, cultural and leisure uses will be nestled within the monumental spaces created by the Bordesley Viaduct, bringing animation to these neglected heritage assets. Adjacent buildings have been setback from the viaduct to create a new pedestrian route along its length to the city centre, with the variety of uses embracing both daytime and evening economies to deliver a truly vibrant destination and mixed community. The Bordesley viaduct connects trains from Birmingham to wider Britain, with the proposals for renewed buildings and animation creating a sense of excitement and intensity as one travels by train through Digbeth to and from the city centre.

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View from Gibb Street of the Lowline, where commercial, cultural and leisure uses will activate the Bordesley Viaduct arches

Our detailed designs for Wild Works - a cluster of four new buildings - provides modern office space, communal incubator work space and a restaurant. Rising up to 8 storeys in part, these buildings have been designed with Digbeth’s creative professionals in mind.

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View from Floodgate Street towards Wild Works
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Internal view of the top floor level in Wild 7, showing a proposed folded exposed CLT roof

A material palette of blue metal and pre-cast concrete is a reference to Wild Works history as a metalwork’s site, whilst the roofline of the tallest of the buildings, Wild 7, is a playful abstraction of the Wild ‘W’, contributing to the characterful Digbeth skyline. The refurbished buildings also provide informal opportunities for street art, which is a distinct part of the cultural heritage of the area.

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The transient street art on the existing brick facades will be retained and encouraged
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Sustainability

From the beginning, our framework has sought to establish a sustainable place that looks beyond ownership boundaries to stitch Digbeth into the surrounding areas, both physically and through social and economic relationships; strengthening and revealing the hidden assets and activities at core clusters; and creating compact intensification and diversification of uses, for example through an increase in workspace and light industrial provision and the introduction of high-quality urban living.

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The existing laneways and yards create a sequence of intimate spaces within tight urban grain
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Illustrative landscape plan

The site specific public realm design is what ties the wide variety of uses and character spaces together, so it’s also been of particular importance that the approach to ground level exemplifies biodiversity and environmental credentials.

We’re reducing reliance on cars through dedicated and safe cycle paths and footpaths as well as cycling facilities, with the active street strategy incorporating a sustainable urban drainage system wherever possible to ensure surface water run-off is managed in a positive way, enhancing water quality, amenity and biodiversity, whilst reconnecting people with the natural water cycle and strengthening the pedestrian nature of the streets through their traffic calming effects.

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View of new neighbourhood square to rear of St Basils

Hanging street lights similar to that currently installed along Floodgate Street will create a sense of place and activity, maximise security, and minimise unnecessary lighting, whilst the approach to planting creates richly vegetated and floral landscapes that boost ecosystems and seasonal interest.

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Team