Rob Sharp of the AJ writes:
Norman Foster’s distinctive Renault Centre in Swindon has come under a fresh threat from its new owners.
The 1982 building’s new owner, Burford Properties, has met with Swindon Borough Council to discuss a potentially substantial redevelopment of one of Foster’s earliest and most-lauded pieces of work.
Burford director Mark Boyes confirmed his meeting with planning officers, and his instruction of ESA Architects along with local planning consultants to consider options for the site.
Beyond stipulations by the council to ‘incorporate elements of the existing building’ into a new development, it seems that anything is fair game.
Crucially, Boyes refused to rule out the possibility of demolishing parts of the building, which is unlisted. He said: ‘[Burford] had had an initial conversation with planners about how we could utilise the building for different uses. The planners don’t want a Costco or an Ikea there – they think the building’s quite iconic.
‘Any redevelopment would have to incorporate elements of the existing building. We have to think, what can we get from retaining the existing structure?’
‘The glass front is attractive, as are the yellow suspension supports,’ he admitted. ‘It would probably end up being a mixed-use development.’
Nick Sampson, a director with ESA, confirmed his instruction: ‘One of the things we’ll be doing is looking at how we can work with the rhythm of the building and how this can be extended across the site.’
The architect will be returning to the council with design ideas in a month’s time.
Twentieth Century Society caseworker Cordula Zeidler claimed that because the building is now under threat, she was ‘absolutely confident’ that it would be spot listed – at Grade II* – by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Alan Hayward, a spokesperson for the Swindon Civic Trust, which has campaigned for the building’s listing along with the Twentieth Century Society, speculated that ‘the market’s simply not there for industrial space’.
Repeated threats to the building have surfaced over the years. Originally designed by Foster as a bespoke distribution centre for Renault, it has remained empty since the car maker moved out in 2001.
Its interim owner, the Irish-based Green Property, failed to let the building, despite spending ?1 million on its refurbishment, because of its location in the heart of west Swindon and its inappropriately located loading bays.
Burford Properties bought the centre from Green Property at the beginning of 2004 as part of a wider portfolio acquisition. When the council was contacted, it declined to discuss the confidential talks it had entered into with Burford.