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Revisiting Middlesbrough’s Community in a Cube

In 2012, I wandered around the Community in a Cube (CIAC) in Middlesbrough after I had a meeting nearby. This visually striking, sustainable, RIBA award shortlisted block of 82 flats in the redeveloping Middlehaven area of the town was of particular interest as it seemed to have become flavour of the month among architects.

Fast-forward to 2019 and the development has been back in the news for rather less welcome reasons. According to local and national press reports, inspections of the building in the wake of the Grenfell disaster have revealed that the building—and, in particular, the distinctive timber claddingare not compliant with fire regulations. ‘Not compliant’ to the extent that a 24/7 ‘waking watch’ patrol has been implemented at a huge cost.

So, when fate brought me to a nearby meeting again today, I thought I’d use the lunch break for another quick wander to see how the development had aged.


Over the last seven years, CIAC has become a local landmark. Its visibility from the A66 and the nearby railway line, combined with the eye-catching “sky homes” perched on top of it, have made the building a familiar and commonly mentioned icon of Middlesbrough.

That said, the intended ‘riverside vision’ has never quite emerged, with CIAC remaining the sole residential development in the area. It seems somewhat isolated as a result. The current plan is for a £30m snow centre to be build nearby.

The surrounding ‘naked streets’, which I found “disconcerting” on my first visit, are now much more traditionally clothed, with separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. There’s also no shortage of weeds on display, which actually somewhat pleasingly soften the visual impact.

Close up, the building looks minimally weathered. The distinctive black stripes on the cladding have mostly worn away on the front of the building, but less so on the less exposed elevations.

The gigantic zebra crossing like paving remains in place at the rear. The geometrically patterned inset wall looks as sharp and fresh as ever. From this angle, I think I’d be hard-pressed to identify photographs taken today from those taken when the building was first completed.

And while seven years ago I said this building “isn’t quite to my taste”, gazing at it across the water of Middlehaven Dock today, I could almost change my mind. Perhaps it’s partly familiarity, but it feels less ‘alien spaceship’ than it did when it was first completed.

All things considered, it has aged pretty well. I’ve no idea how well it has done from a sales perspective: I hear tell from local colleagues that some of the flats are now let to students of the nearby Middlesbrough College, but there are certainly a fair few owner occupiers.


Of course, though, as successful as the visual impact has been, I wouldn’t have dreamed that such a modern building would now be deemed a major fire risk in need of hundreds of thousands of pounds of remedial work. I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel for the owners and residents of the flats to be living somewhere where they don’t feel as safe as they once did, let alone the financial consequences.

While I understand from the media coverage that it was compliant with regulations when built, this experience must surely raise questions about when the right things are really prioritised when landmark architectural developments are being designed.

This 2,477th post was filed under: Posts delayed by 12 months, , , .

Thoughts on the restoration of ex-BBC Television Centre

I’m writing this in the courtyard of Television Centre in West London, which I happened to be passing today. I’m gazing up at the newly restored statue of Helios and watching the repaired fountains dance as they never have on any previous visit.

I think for most British people of my age, Television Centre is the home of Going Live, Live & Kicking, Blue Peter, Ed the Duck, Otis the Aardvark, and Philip Schofield and Andi Peters’s broom cupboard. After the BBC moved off the site in 2013, it has been closed for restoration and redevelopment, with luxury apartments the order of the day—albeit with three television studios remaining. It seems ironic that two-thirds of the studios in a location so closely associated with the BBC are to become the new standing home of iconic ITV programmes like This Morning any day now.

I last visited Television Centre with Wendy, a few months before it closed.

We were lucky enough to secure a place on one of the final tours of the building and were fascinated to get an understanding of the mechanics of production of TV shows (and especially news programmes). This aspect was far more interesting to both of us than the celebrity anecdotes, tour of the Match of the Day set, or inevitable visit to the gift shop.

We both felt a little uncomfortable at the tour of the ‘celebrity’ dressing rooms, knowing that they were the settings for sexual abuse: our visit coincided with a 12-month period in which horrific historical examples of abuse at the BBC were being recalled almost daily on the front pages of newspapers. The fabric of the building was also falling apart at the seams, the sense of magic ebbing away with the physical as much as the moral dilapidation.

Towards the end of the tour, we were press-ganged into making up the numbers for the studio audience of a recording of a truly terrible daytime game show which we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of since. In a high-pressured time-limited trivia finale, the host fluffed the reading of almost every question. He then got to record ‘pick-ups’, having a second (and occasionally third) go at reading them correctly. The contestant didn’t get a second go at answering them, and so presumably ended up appearing inexplicably flummoxed by perfectly simple questions, through no fault of her own. “TV magic”, it seems, still favours the “talent”.

This afternoon, Television Centre is quiet. In fact, as I tap away, I’m the only person in the courtyard. At least from the outside, the restoration appears sympathetic. The front of the site looks all the better for the landscaping that has replaced the exterior car park, which also has the effect of making the Centre seem smaller and more intimate.

I expected to feel a certain sense of melancholy from coming to a place to which I once felt such a close connection, knowing that a part of our collective cultural heritage had been auctioned off to the highest bidder and converted into apartments I could never hope to afford. And yet, that is not how I feel.

Perhaps incongruously, I feel a strange sense of satisfaction at seeing the building sympathetically restored. The impression is of quality and accessible historical grandeur, and it feels strangely as though the hope for the future inherent in redevelopment has frightened away the collected ghosts of the past.

It doesn’t feel like a wonderous “TV factory” any more, as it did from a distance in my childhood; but nor does it feel like a tainted crime scene, as it did on my last visit. It feels like a housing development sympathetically built around a listed building—which is, I suppose, exactly what it is.

This 2,422nd post was filed under: Posts delayed by 12 months, Travel, , , , , .

Photo-a-day 288: Millennium rainbow

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This is a picture I took earlier in the week of the Millennium Bridge lit up, as it is every night, in its rainbow-like colour scheme. The current lighting system was installed in 2009, and is LED based for super energy efficiency.

It’s the (first, second, third, fourth) fifth time I’ve featured the bridge this year, so you may be bored of seeing it by now…! In my own defence, this is the first night-time shot of it!

This 1,848th post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , , .




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