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Behind the scenes at a Design Review

Behind the scenes at a Design Review

30 July 2016 Written by By Thomas Bender Lead Advisor, Design Council Cabe

We thought it would be useful to take people ‘behind the scenes’ of a Cabe Design Review for an exclusive look at the process to reveal how it brings true value to new architectural schemes.  

The very nature of Design Review means that our involvement takes place during the planning stages. So it's easy to overlook the value that it brings to the building and places that we enjoy. Once the plans have turned into buildings and places, the review panel’s work is well and truly complete and they are already hard at work on a new proposal that will shape where we live and play tomorrow.

Whether you’re an architect or developer who has to present plans for review; a local authority worker who has to consider the impact of a development on the community, or you’re just plain curious – here we’re sharing an insight into the events and outcomes of a real panel conversation.

Reviewing The Old Vinyl Factory

The Old Vinyl Factory is the famed and sadly discontinued vinyl pressing plant in Hayes that gave life to the HMV label and later became the home of EMI.

This is where the seminal albums of the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were pressed - the very factory where workers put down their tools and refused to press the Sex Pistols' 'God Save the Queen', nearly delaying release of the record. The stories are endless, but the place itself is no more. So how do you revive the life that was once here? How do you create something that will work in the future, while paying homage to the past?

The team tasked with the challenge, the award-winning London architectural firm; Studio Egret West, sought advice from Design Review in 2012. Here’s what happened when David West, the architect, came together with Cabe experts and the local planning manager to review the plans for the site.

David West, Architect

Preparing for Design Review really helped our team to focus on telling the story. Having to communicate the layers of design required in creating a mixed use urban environment within 12 A1 boards and a twenty minute presentation is a healthy discipline. It encourages designers to distil and define a key design principle.

Results of Design Review

We had a good review in that our strategic thinking was applauded and ideas for the site were supported. However, there were a few helpful comments made regarding the masterplan layout. Here's a couple:

Bigger Picture

The panel wanted to see more information about how the proposal might fit into wider strategies for Hayes, bearing in mind the future Crossrail Station and availability of further brownfield sites.

Redefining the space

They felt our distribution of space could be more clearly defined and that the Powerhouse Square should be the heart of the place.

Our changes

The Powerhouse did indeed become the buzzing heart of the place - framed by active uses on all sides with a performance venue in the middle supported by the cinema. Vinyl Square - the quieter of the two spaces – became more about providing an entrance and a grand setting for the site as a whole.

The Record Stack car park

Our original design included multistorey car parks. Multistorey car parks are likely to have a bland façade and being so big, they can also block access to buildings and spaces behind them. The Design Review panel pointed out some of those problems, as well as the impact on future developments.  We reworked our car parking strategy and even came up with a new idea for a 'record stack' car park. All of the moves above made the framework plan better, demonstrating the positive impact of Design Review on the evolution of a proposal.

Thomas Bender, Lead Advisor, Design Council Cabe 

The Vinyl Factory scheme was a hugely interesting scheme to work on as a Design Review advisor. The visit to Hayes revealed a hidden gem: once the heart of EMI’s operations, the site is still immersed with the aura of a key chapter of the British music industry. Huge white factory buildings with some Art Deco touch give the place the feel of a stage set – a place with tremendous potential for Studio Egret West to rejuvenate and reinvent.

The passion and excitement came through at the Design Review meeting and won over our panel of Built Environment Experts. The panel, however, kept an eye on the pragmatic aspects of the project looking at how the scheme fitted into the wider context of Hayes.

We wanted to ensure that the project created a truly animated place where people want to work and live, we challenged the design team to really test what each place and street will feel like and redefine the car parking strategy. We discussed the planning process and how to make sure the outline application reflected the high ambitions apparent in the complex masterplan proposal.

Noel Farrer, Built Environment Expert

The Vinyl Factory is a scheme that highlights the central importance of the public realm in place making. The scheme had a distinct character which was imaginatively developed by Studio Egret West to create a vision for the site which was far reaching and would transform the wider neighbourhood. The compelling way The Vinyl Factory’s cultural heritage has been used to inform the design of spaces and buildings is down to the confidence of the design team and client.

The Design Review process was a pleasure because we were working on a level where all parties were looking to get the best from the scheme. No one needed to be defensive about areas of inadequacy in decision making, leadership or design paucity. This allowed a sharper analysis and honesty. The criticism was understood, digested and taken on board.

What a great experience - a true endorsement for Design Review and the importance of landscape.  I was happy to be a part of it. 

Alex Smith, Planning Manager, London Borough of Hillingdon

The Design Review process allowed an independent and impartial review of the site to take place. On a project of this size, the design will evolve through the course of the development and the design review provided an excellent opportunity to stop and consider, alongside fresh sets of expert eyes, how and why the project had got to its current design.

The feedback was largely positive from the expert panel and the comments with regards to how the development would fit within the wider Hayes environment, the hierarchy of spaces within the site, and potential amendments to the Groove and Blyth Road gave excellent food for thought for the next evolution of the design.

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