BCU students win award for MRB project

We are delighted that a group of architecture students at Birmingham City University took second place in The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, Philip Webb Award. Not only is this a huge achievement and we’re really impressed with their ambitious designs, the students kindly donated their £500 prize money to be Baths. One of the group, Huma Mahmood wrote us a blog to explain their project and what inspired their vision and their generous decision to donate the money.

MRB proposed front elevation

The inspiration for the project really came from the community and story behind the building. Moseley Road Baths has a rich history serving the local people, stretching back to the beginning of the 20th century. The building itself is also unique in character with one of the most complete set of slipper baths in the country and the oldest working swimming pool in the UK. It is a much-loved building and we wanted to contribute our ideas towards the current efforts to save and protect it for the benefit of future generations.  

I think we can all agree we were really excited to take part on a collaborative project with Donald Insall architects, working towards the refurbishment and repair of a much beloved building. Our group was made up of Rebecca Chim, Shannon Ciriaco, Frances Lacey, Annabel Linch, Huma Mahmood (myself), Lechelle Ndlovu and James Timmins so seven in total. Each of us come from a variety of different design backgrounds but I believe it’s precisely this which allowed our proposal for the baths to become what it was.

Our overarching influence throughout the entire project was the community of the baths with our main ambition being to provide continuity and enhancement within our proposal to ensure the longevity of the building.  From the site visits, being able to experience the character of the building and see for ourselves the community that has come together to keep the building alive, we felt just as much a part of the fight to keep it open, reworking the character and spirit of the building for its users through our scheme. 

Key to the design was identifying the vast amount of space that is currently unused or inaccessible to the public and unlocking them to reveal hidden spaces. A new community café was added at the very heart of the building opening up the constricted circulation while providing a central gathering point for all users of the baths.  

Slipper baths section

We programmed the women’s slipper baths towards the street front to become the Moseley Maker’s Studio; a collaborative initiative that populates each of the uniquely cellular booths with a workspace for local creatives from Balsall Heath and across the city.  Similarly, the 1st class men’s baths are proposed as co-working booths and would be adjacent to the volunteer’s offices, encouraging a friendly place to work.  

The Gala Pool itself is covered by a proposed intervention that can be entirely reversed if swimming was ever to return as a programme at the wishes of the community.  

The extension to the side houses an ancillary bar and social space newly branded the Moseley Engine Room, which seamlessly connects to the Gala Pool venue. This facilitates the movement between new and old elements, particularly in restoring the use of the original European-style balconettes on the upper level, thought to be unique to the UK

Gala Pool visuals

Most of us have very little experience with conservation projects so this was a great opportunity for us to try our hand at it alongside professional architects. We enjoyed the site visits the most, where we had the opportunity to experience the building in a way not many people are able to. Being able to see the details and atmosphere of the building up close made us appreciate and enjoy the project more.  It was also really fulfilling to be able to collaborate and learn from the vast knowledge of the many professionals involved in the project. Having the opportunity to work alongside them provided with us with an invaluable experience of the processes and challenges involved in working on a live conservation project.

The team on a site visit

After hearing about the Philip Webb award, we all wanted to work together to submit a proposal using our scheme for Moseley Road Baths. The Philip Webb award entails a design-oriented competition which encourages the sympathetic reuse of existing buildings and is awarded by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). We felt this would be a great opportunity to shed light on our work and the wonderful efforts already being made at Moseley Road Baths by the volunteers working there.

During the initial phase we became the only team entry to be shortlisted. After presenting our proposal to the judging panel, we were commended on our sensitive approach to conserving the existing building whilst exploring exciting options for refurbishment and were awarded the 2nd prize. It feels surreal to have taken part and to have come away achieving a win of such a prestigious award and we are all extremely grateful for it. I don’t believe any of us thought we would have been able to achieve so much from this project, but it has taught us a lot along the way. The decision to donate the prize winnings to the baths was unanimous, in order to help the already wonderful efforts they have made to keep this building alive today, especially during the trying times of the pandemic.

Huma Mahmood, BCU


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