CAT architecture students suggest ways to put sustainability at the heart of Birmingham

Home » CAT architecture students suggest ways to put sustainability at the heart of Birmingham


Students from the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Graduate School of the Environment last week revealed their designs for the proposed regeneration of a site near Birmingham’s Custard Factory. Developer Lucan Gray chose to use CAT students to help put sustainability at the heart of his proposals.

The corner site in Digbeth may eventually be developed into a dynamic entrance to Birmingham’s creative quarter. The Custard Factory, which today houses boutiques, artists’ studios and other small and medium sized businesses has been gradually redeveloped in recent years, transforming what was once the home of Bird’s custard-making operation into a creative hub.

Built by Sir Alfred Frederick Bird, son of the inventor of egg-free custard, the site lay empty after the custard production moved to Banbury in 1964. The redevelopment of the site by Benny Gray and son Lucan has sought to re-invigorate the area, aiming to create around a thousand jobs by the project’s completion.

Central to the operation has been re-casting the industrial legacy of the area ­ what was once a loading bay is now a lake at the heart of the complex. The site, with its stunning historic buildings, provides exciting opportunities for renovation and conversion, a core concern for the students, whose studies are focused on sustainable architectural practice. Utilising the existing buildings in creative ways, the students proposed ideas for developing the area in an integrated, cohesive manner.

Situated as it is a mere ten minutes away from the Bullring, Birmingham’s premier shopping destination, the proposals will also explore ways that the site can be used to engender an economic alternative to out-of-control consumerism.

The students visited the site in February 2012 and carried out a survey, returning on the 14th of May to exhibit their project designs at the Lake Gallery in the Custard Factory. The event was attended by prominent architect Glenn Howells, his staff, local architects and Custard factory tenants.

The semi live project gives the students an opportunity to become familiar with the concerns of the developer, the local community and wider considerations based in reality. This is vital, as building designers/clients often misinterpret local needs and these are usually fairly mixed with some conflicting ambitions, and are set against a backdrop of global concerns, so it’s a very useful way for the students to start to pick their way through local politics, funding issues, local and regional concerns.

Lucan Gray said that he was extremely impressed by the designs and was astounded at the breadth and difference in the students design approach. He was very happy to see a sustainability approach in design. The students thoroughly enjoyed presenting their work especially having a real live project and client involved the design project.

CAT hope to continue to collaborate with the Custard Factory as a view to integrating art and media as vehicles of education to encourage people to live more sustainable lifestyles.