Bio science building still wrong

Despite a long public consultation, and seemingly endless debate, the University is again seeking planning permission for an oversized block that will shut out our view of the Royal Fort and degrade the environment of St Michael’s Hill. They’ve never explained why they’re ignoring their own Masterplan, which is an official planning document.

Sadly, the KCG committee feels that they must oppose this latest version, but we live in hope that the university will eventually listen. If you agree with us, please email no************@br*****.uk and tell them a.s.a.p. as this is to be decided on April 8th and comments need to be sent in well before then.

Here is our full response:

University of Bristol – Proposed Biological Sciences Building – 08/05160/F

Mass of the proposed Biological Sciences building

We have now seen the University’s proposed revisions to the design of the St. Michael’s Hill elevation of the Bio-Sciences building.  We support the University’s original development Masterplan SPD11.  However, because the University has failed to adhere to its Masterplan we remain opposed to this particular application.  The recent design revisions cannot disguise the mass of the Maths and Bio-Sciences Buildings, which are too large for the site.

We are saddened to oppose an application by the University but, the effect of the construction of the proposed buildings will put an end to the character of the upper part of the St. Michael’s Hill conservation area.  In July 2006, the City adopted SPD11.  Appendix 3 sets out particulars of the University’s extensive public consultation.  SPD11 paragraph 4.8 describes strategic move 7.

“The University needs 38,000 square metres of new, core academic space, 18,000 square metres are required for Life Sciences.” And “…………Appendix 6 lists the floorspace that the Masterplan will seek to achieve subject to the need for new buildings to respond well, in particular, to the historic context.”

The relevant legal principles that apply to the interpretation of documents are

(i)“The whole document rule” that is, the document must be read as a whole.  Parts of a document are not to be read disjunctively; and

(ii)Words are to be given their everyday, dictionary meanings.

On page 2 of our original response we quoted the figures that the University included in Appendix 6 compared to the floor areas of the current proposals.  As far as we are aware, the University has not attempted to reconcile the area that, in July 2006, it said that it required with the area that it now says that it must have.  The restriction of the site is of the University’s own making.  They could have made fuller use of the land that is available at the former Children’s hospital site.  We will not weary you by repeating the arithmetic.  The current proposals are incontestably larger than those that the Masterplan contained.  The Masterplan unambiguously stated that the Bio-Sciences building would be four floors tall.  Appendix 6 was clear and contained carefully drafted proposals.  The University intended the community to believe its representations.  The community acted on the University’s statement.  It supported the Masterplan.  The City must not now act contrary to its own planning guidance in SPD11.  The increase in the buildings’ mass is disproportionate.  It nullifies any public involvement in the Masterplanning process.  The significant public involvement pre-Masterplan is a material consideration in this application.  The policy of pre-application public involvement, adopted in the City’s Statement of Community Involvement, is designed to avoid planning conflicts such as this.  The University has not offered any reasoned justification to multiply by 1.5 – 2 times the size of its proposed buildings in 18 months.  If the University degrades public involvement in the manner that it proposes the public will ask “Why should we bother?”

The mass of this building fails the University’s design criteria that the Masterplan specified in Sections 5.2 and 5.3.  The design criteria correctly identify the impact of the new buildings on St. Michael’s Hill and the disastrous outcome for the conservation area.  We do not intend to review in detail the changes of the design. The St. Michael’s Hill elevation is not significantly altered by the revisions because they cannot disguise that fact that the University is trying to cram too much building onto too small a site.  The mass of the Bio-Sciences building would fail to “mend the street”; it would dominate the conservation area and import the architectural confusion of Tyndall Avenue into St. Michael’s Hill.

In March 2008 the City adopted the Kingsdown Conservation Area Character Appraisal.  Paragraph 6.2.3 says “The preservation of Kingsdown’s views is vital in protecting the area’s character and special interest.  New developments within ……….. and the University sites all pose a significant threat to Kingsdown’s views (see Negative Features)”.  The proposals will virtually block the view from Kingsdown of the Royal Fort Physics Tower, which a four floor building would not.

Design of the proposed Biological Sciences building

The outcome of the lengthy public consultation exercise carried out by the University resulted in a proposal for a four storey building fronting St Michaels Hill which was accepted by all parties involved.  Although the scale of the surrounding buildings is limited to three storeys it was felt that with appropriate detailing a four storey building would be acceptable.

However, the current proposal now in front of the committee is over six storeys in height which makes constructive criticism difficult to achieve.  Recent alterations to the scheme seem to have been based solely on a futile and impossible attempt to have the proposal regarded within the initial design parameters set for the site.

The introduction of projecting vertical piers, the alternate use of render and stone coupled with an awkward parapet detail are unconvincing and represent an attempt to dress a disproportionately large building in the historic style of its three storey neighbours.  This proposal should reflect the scale of the adjacent environment and could be a vibrant addition to the street if it were to more honestly reflect its use as an educational building.

There are some general observations which could be applied to any proposal in this situation…

The public access to the scheme should not be sited immediately adjacent to the service access. The two are wholly incompatible.

Both the south and north elevations should include positive glazing to take full advantage of the views offered to the occupants and more importantly provide visual interest to the street scene as it is from these oblique angles that the building will be  perceived. Detailed observations….

The stone plinth represents the type of architectural setting to be found within the immediate locality. However the curious manner in which the base of the building form then steps up and down on top of the plinth is visually unsettling and results in large, unbroken panels of render sitting just above street level. We hope that natural stone can be used throughout.

The introduction of the ‘brise soleil’ is again rather curious as the St Michaels Hill elevation faces east, where the sun is at its lowest, possibly rendering these additions unproductive.

These comments could be interpreted as a criticism of the architects involved. This is not the case, we welcome the University’s choice of a contemporary practice. The problem lies with the brief and the demand for excessive scale not being suitable to the site offered. Could we request that the architects brief be amended so as to be more achievable in nature and that they be given the opportunity to design a building that represents its function whilst respecting the historical scale and nature of the adjoining neighbourhood?


Leave a Reply