Completing Chancellors Court

Visitors to the University of Birmingham's Edgbaston Campus have probably noticed the odd number of domes in Chancellors Court. On the right hand side of the central dome are two domes but there is only one to it's left and a space where the building was never completed to it's original design. Indeed the original design was for 6 domes alongside the central dome.

In my photo, the dome on the right is out of shot and the space for the missing dome out of shot on the left.

The recent Pevsner guide for Birmingham by Andy Foster, 2005 notes:

"The semicircle housed offices served by a spine corridor, two storeys high on the N side and three storeys on the S. The plan was adapted from pavillion hospitals, the curved spine achieving maximum light and ventilation with a minimum distance between individual buildings" (p.241, 2005).

Had the full semi-circle been completed together with the facing blocks it would have been a quad in the sense of Oxford or Cambridge. As Foster notes "both in style and plan Webb and Bell's buildings deliberately distanced themselves from Oxbridge colleges, as something different was felt to be required for the first English university primarily devoted to science" (p.243, 2005).

Excitingly, although what design we see could make or break it, the missing block to complete the court is being tendered for as a £15m music centre.

This is taken from Construction News

Uni to develop £15m music centre
Published: 14 March 2008 15:3

The University of Birmingham is inviting bids for a development project
worth up to £15 million at its main campus in Edgbaston, Birmingham.Due late in 2010, the proposed development will include a 450-seat auditorium, rehearsal space, studios, offices and storage for the university's music department.To be called the Chancellor's Court Auditorium, it will be at the centre of the campus and also used by the college's hospitality, accommodation and conferencing services.The construction cost is estimated at between £10 million and £15 million.The university expects to invite five bidders to submit tenders. The deadline for requests to participate is Thursday 27 March.

The Tender submitted to the Official Journal of the European Union is included below:

UK-Birmingham: architectural, engineering, construction, legal, accounting and
other professional services

2008/S 52-071044


Short description of the contract or purchase(s):The University of Birmingham has a requirement for the provision of Multi-Disciplinary (Architect/Lead Consultant; Structural Engineering and Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Services Consultancy) Design Services for a proposed new development to be known as the Chancellor's Court Auditorium which will be located at the centre of the University's main campus in Edgbaston Birmingham. The proposed development will provide a new 450 seat auditorium, rehearsal space, studios, offices and storage for the University's Department of Music. The site to be used for this proposed development will enable the University to complete the historic "Aston Webb semi-circle" of building's at the heart of the campus. In addition to providing new facilities for the Department of Music it is intended that the Auditorium will be marketed and used by the University's Hospitality and Accommodation Services, Conferencing Office in conjunction with other facilities within the University's portfolio of Conferencing facilities. Aspirationally the Auditorium is intended to provide a luxurious venue with the finest quality acoustics suitable for amplified speech and with advanced audio and audio-visual capabilities.

Academically there will be two key users of the Music Department Facilities provided by the proposed Auditorium - the Centre for Early Music which will require teaching and rehearsal space for sensitive musical instruments and Electroaccoustic Music requiring a range of 8-24 channel studios. The appointed Multi-Disciplinary Design Team Consultants will be required to provide Multi-Disciplinary Design Team services from RIBA Work Stage C through to L inclusive. The University currently anticipates that a Traditional Procurement Strategy will be used for the Procurement if the construction of the proposed development but this may change and if a Design and Build procurement strategy is used the Multi Disciplinary Design Team will be novated to the Contractor.

Total quantity or scope:Minimum net Construction Cost is anticipated to be 10 000 000 GBP and Maximum anticipated to be 15 000 000


Starting: 28.4.2008.

Completion: 31.10.2010

Time-limit for receipt of tenders or requests to participate: 27.3.2008 - 15:00.

Date of dispatch of invitations to tender or to participate to selected candidates:31.3.2008.


Jack Kirby said…
Controversial! It will take architecture of serious quality to adequately complete Chancellors Court.

I used to be in favour of a glass building so that the uncompleted orginal could be appreciated as such... now I'm not so sure, must be age.

It appears that this proposal is to complete the gap in the semicircle itself which currently contains a set of stairs providing a rather useful shortcut across the campus, but then is rather messy behind these.

Webb and Bell's original 1900 proposals actually show not just the semicircle but the straight bar of the D shape of Chancellors Court filled with buildings, so the site proposed in the OJEU notice does not actually complete the original design, which shows no less than 10 domes, but evolved substantially before the parts actually built were constructed.

The 1900 proposals are pictured in Lewis Braithwaite, The University of Birmingam Architectural Trail (Birmingham: University of Birmingham, 1987) which is well worth seeking out if you like the campus.
Simon Felton said…
It definitely is controversial and I trust the design will definitely get scrutiny from the university, students, the city and conservation and historial experts.

Thanks for succinctly explaining the full Webb and Bell proposal. I couldn't think of a clear way to explain it but when you say D shape it makes perfect sense.

I did take a photocopy of some of the interesting bits from the Architectural Trail book which made interesting reading.

The Pevsner guide from 2005 is quite complimentary and quite correct when it says we have a wide representation of modernist practices so hopefully the architects for this proposal will also consider the rich diversity they will be adding too.

Thanks for your post.

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