Student Blog: Rebecca on Daylighting, Howells and The Custard Factory

Home » Student Blog: Rebecca on Daylighting, Howells and The Custard Factory



Wind, acoustics, air quality, refurbishment, green roofs and schools – this month’s lectures covered so many ideas tied with a central theme of user perception. It was also the launch of our second design project, the urban regeneration of a site next to the Custard Factory in Birmingham.

During the week at CAT we went through the brief and discussed who will focus on which area of site research. I took the daylighting practical where we learnt the traditional BRE manual method of predicting skylight, sunlight and solar gain. We used this to explore light qualities on the new site taking potential window positions and assessing their suitability for various activities to be housed; for example, discovering the necessary distances from adjacent building to allow adequate daylighting. We also used the artificial sky and the heliodon with models which we will definitely be using again once more advanced models for the next designs have progressed.

At the end of the module we all made our way to the central backpacker hostel on Coventry Street in Birmingham for site analysis and client meeting, definitely the highlight of the week. HQ for the stay was a studio room in Glenn Howells Office, which is also where we will be presenting the final proposed schemes. Glenn gave a lecture on the history and urban evolution of Birmingham and the selected site. It is at the geographical birthplace of the city, although now consists of a 6-lane road, crossing the river hidden far below and bounded mostly by either derelict brick industrial buildings or boarded up brown-field sites.

The client is Lucan Grey, owner of the land and modern philanthropist/developer who initiated the custard factory. He gave a talk in the exquisite Fazeley Studios, an old church that from the outside, appears to be just part of the half-derelict, graffiti-covered Digbeth area, but opens up to an opulent interior with a luxurious-business atmosphere. Grey describes it as a ‘secret place, inward-looking’. The whole area, that will one day become the ‘Custard Factory Quarter’ is full of surreal surprises, including the hidden river Rea, the domes and canopies over the Custard Factory courtyards and the Indian restaurant whose day-time coffee shop aims to be a place for ‘the meeting of the minds’ and a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore, a great Indian Polymath.

After visiting the inspiring Edible Eastside community gardening project by the canal, we went on site at the new Birmingham Library, designed by Mecanoo architects. The building is huge and the scale of every part of the design miniaturised our small group as we toured around. Going up in the hoist to the roof was brilliant, cantilevered in a metal mesh box from a steel post tied in at points to the structure. From the top we could look down over the once fully red-bricked city, now carved up by wide roads and huge glass fronted, mass buildings.

The group vibe is excitement for this new project on an interesting and complex site. For the final mark, along with presentations of schemes, we will be producing detailed technical reports which will test the knowledge gained in modules so far, with a construction cost budget of only £120 per square foot. Design of The Custard-Quarter Gateway, here we come.