Thirty Years In Practice

As we celebrate our 30th year in practice, we hope you’ll forgive us for rounding the year off with an element of nostalgia. We’ve raked over the warm embers of our work predominantly in the fields of masterplanning, regeneration and housing to see what we can find.

The project that started it all off, back in 1982, was a series of shopfitting contracts carried out on behalf of Walter Smith butchers. A total refit over a Bank Holiday weekend, 24 hour working and a team spirit which predated Egan procurement and partnering by close to a decade.

Our longest running project has got to be the regeneration of the Pype Hayes Estate which began back in the summer of ‘89 addressing a bunch of disgruntled local residents who were going to lose their defective Boswell Houses, but were worried about what they might be getting in their place… and this year Birmingham City Council have just completed the handover (pictured left) of the last phase of work under the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust umbrella.

The strangest project we’ve worked on has got to be looking for buried WW2 aircraft while pretending to be doing drainage survey work – the only job that did not carry a job number or any correspondence references. Not quite in line with the RIBA project management guidance!

The most expensive project per square metre has got to be Wigan Metropolitan Council Chamber: an interior refit of the former Mining College in the town. Bespoke light poles, silk heraldic banners suspended in specially designed Perspex frames (pictured right) and a three storey hexagonal glass tower made out of Reynolds 531 tube.

The cheapest per square metre must be the Balsall Heath Tree Centre: an A-framed community space sitting within a community tree nursery (left).

The one that got us in the media for the wrong reasons: Wadbury Mill and the threat to our refurbishment of an old mill was thanks to a colony of Long-eared Bats. We made the front page of the Guardian as we recall.

Our most challenging project was probably the reconstruction of the grade 2 listed roof trusses in Crosby Court (right). Between English Heritage, imminent roof collapse and pigeons we still managed to jack the roof up and pull the lantern back into position… mind you, the roof had survived a direct hit during the war but the bomb failed to go off. It was never found and could be under our conference room for all we know. A great way of keeping client meetings short.

The one that got us in the media for all the right reasons: Eco Terraces – a radical refurbishment of terraced houses which predated the government focus on improving existing stock and the current Green Deal.

Our most embarrassing project has to be the cedar clad courtyard of bungalows in Castle Vale. They were great when new but now look miserable, grey, streaked, and shed-like in appearance – not at all what we intended.

The project we miss most: Midlands Art Centre café and its play wall which included a built-in noughts & crosses game (pictured left) – an attempt to create an interactive art space for users of every age with the in-house artists making the cushions, banners and ceramic tiles.

Our most popular project with the wider public is probably Brandwood End (pictured right), which met its core objectives of being ‘tenure blind’ and a 21st century reinvention of Bournville Village Trust housing. Our homage to Harvey and Bedford Tyler is ageing quite gracefully (unlike some of us).

The most satisfying project has got to be the one project that delighted the client, had architectural integrity, enriched the lives of its users, had us showered in accolades and earned us a mandatory scale 10% fee plus expenses… We can’t quite recall which project that would be.

Finally, the strangest coincidence in this our 30th year, is that we find ourselves working on a development in Monument Road, Ladywood, having spent much of the ‘80s and ‘90s working on the regeneration framework for the area. What’s even stranger is that we are looking at the refurbishment of the Schoolhouse, a small school building which the two founding partners looked at in the year preceding the formation of Axis Design… what goes around comes around.

We’d like to add our thanks to all our clients, collaborators, colleagues and fellow consultants for all their input, support and trust over the last 30 years. Most of all we hope that the residents we’ve met along the way have all enjoyed living in the places we’ve helped to create; we’ve certainly enjoyed being a part of their communities during our work together. We’re looking forward to the next 30 years and more projects as challenging as the ones described above.


  1. Chris Miller said,

    December 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Hey guys, great to read this on the train back from London. That must have meant Rob would have been about 5 when the practice started and Mike you would have been ???

  2. Rob said,

    December 19, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    I was 7! We’re still doing the maths on Mike’s age.

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