Design review: The Vault

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Places Matter and Hill DickinsonPart of our series revisiting five buildings completed recently in the North West. Reviews carried out by members of the Places Matter! design review panel , sponsored by Places Matter! and Hill Dickinson.

Development: The Vault, South Liverpool

Developer: Gladman

Completed: 2007

Content: 603,358 sq ft distribution warehouse, 15,481 sq ft offices, 618,839 sq ft total. Occupied by B&M retail in 2010, after the design panel visited.

Architect: Gladman in-house design team


Images gallery below. Photographs by Chris Driver

DESCRIPTION: This is a vast distribution facility close to Liverpool John Lennon Airport and links to motorways and the port. This is a good location from an infrastructure point of view. It is also a great site in landscape terms, next to the Mersey and a protected nature reserve with views of the old art deco airport terminal and hangars. However, it is part of a business park and other development sites either side will be developed one day so the warehouse is currently sitting in more of the landscape than it might in the future.

REVIEW: The public sector has invested a lot in the surrounding infrastructure and boundary treatments but some of the perimeter landscaping is already looking un-kept. It is all very well spending English Partnerships' money but if you don't maintain it all you end up with is dead trees and litter surrounding a building.

The building is in a big open space and the moment you start to build up close to it that scale will quickly become overpowering.

The whole thing is really mysterious and gives no indication at all of what's going on inside but that is probably because it was built speculatively. It is not dressed by branding and when B&M get into it will make more of a statement about its business.

Even so, more could have been done with the whole thing with some wit and intelligence. There is some interest generated by the different sizes of panels that have been used but from a distance you can't tell that.

Admittedly, there is not a lot you can do with a building this size but if you have got such a massive statement you need to do something equally massive in terms of the landscape outside such as with architectural or sculptural blocks to help the building sit within its landscape better. There's a tiny gatehouse that is out of scale with the rest of the building and which a visitor could easily miss at the entrance to the site.

People will come here only to go to work and maybe there is no need for grand gestures but the entrance and arrival don't work and could have been done differently. When there's a clear approach there tends to be more courage but this doesn't have that.

The office element on the side could have been more clearly articulated and more humane but looks like black panelling. This should have been more powerful and stronger and could have been without costing them more money.

If we were doing it now we would be asking about photovoltaic, rainwater collection and some of these comments have to be taken in the spirit of the times.

Some of the large warehouses by ProLogis are completely different to this and have won awards for their sustainability.

But we've been designing sustainable green buildings for 15, 20 years so there's no excuse here. That's a huge roof so it could collect water for reuse on the landscape.

We are supportive of something of this scale on this site. But it's not exploiting a great site or its scale or making its mark on the landscape in a positive way. The detail is unconvincing, none of it has consistency to it and because of the lack of a big idea the detail suffers as well because you don't know what you're detailing. It's not of its place which is one of our constant concerns.

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