Bryant Priest Newman Architects were appointed by Lichfield City Council in 2005 to design a new community centre to serve the communities of Darwin Park Estate and the Chester Road areas of the city. The exceptional variety of tone and texture offered by Wienerberger’s Hectic brick range proved the perfect medium for this project.
Named after Erasmus Darwin, who lived in Lichfield during the 18th Century, Darwin Hall Community Centre was to be built at the end of a long, landscaped avenue with open views onto Lichfield Cathedral at the other end. The Centre was funded by Section 106 contributions arising from the construction of the Darwin Park Estate.
Given the high profile location of the new building on Cathedral Walk, it was essential that the design reflected the character of the surrounding built environment, was sympathetic to the natural landscape and reflected the diversity of contemporary society.
Architects Bryant Priest Newman responded to the brief by creating a low-rise contemporary building which could serve as a local landmark, while respecting open views and the surrounding built environment.
For security reasons, Lichfield City Council wanted the number of windows kept to a minimum, which meant that the brick was the predominant design feature, defining the appearance of the building overall. At the same time, the materials used needed to reflect the look and feel of the surrounding estate, while also echoing the city’s historic architectural pedigree.
On a visit to Belgium, the Project Architect saw a building constructed in Wienerberger’s Hectic Red clay facing brick. Struck by the authentic ‘hand-crafted’ appearance and range of tone and texture of these bricks, he investigated and found that the products could be supplied to Lichfield by Wienerberger in the UK.
Around 20,000 of these striking, highly tactile bricks have been used in the final building, including a number of brick slips used as cladding to the Centre’s oriel windows. To further emphasise the colours and textures of each individual bricks, the architects specified ‘racked out’ dark grey mortar joints.
"The finished article is a building which is warm, dynamic, striking and accessible. The experience of the brickwork became a way for people to connect and interact with the building,” explains project architect Gavin Orton. “Close up, each brick becomes an individual piece of tactile craftwork where passers-by touch, feel and stroke their way along the elevations.”
Gavin concludes: “The new Community Centre is already proving popular with residents and provides an interesting and sympathetic addition to the landscape. It reflects the character and charm of Lichfield as a historic city, while celebrating the 21st century and the diversity of both the people using it and the breadth of activities centred there. We believe that it is a fitting tribute to Erasmus Darwin, who was the grandfather of Charles, and himself one of the key thinkers of the Enlightment in the Midlands, a natural philosopher, physiologist, abolitionist, inventor and poet.”
The project also features Wienerberger’s Aquata pavers, which are designed to form part of a sustainable urban drainage system (SUDS).
The Darwin Hall Community Centre took 12 months to complete and was officially opened in September 2010.
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