As architects we encounter many and varied challenges as we develop our design approaches to different projects: whether we are co-locating different uses in an urban industrial intensification scheme, or creating a masterplan for a vital infrastructure development in a rural environment.
Sensitive design solutions were needed when developing our masterplan for West Midlands Interchange (WMI) – a logistics development designated as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, that will generate substantial economic and sustainability benefits through the transfer of freight from road to rail.
At 8 million square feet the WMI is the UK’s largest logistics development site and one of the biggest in Europe – bringing together road, rail and canal transport infrastructure in a new Strategic Rail Freight Interchange in South Staffordshire’s so-called logistics golden triangle.
Design Challenges and Process
The Design challenges our teams faced included the site’s location within the Green Belt, surrounded by an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with the historic Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal running through the site along a conservation corridor.
Careful design and constant reassessment of the scheme, influenced by community consultation, environmental considerations and occupier needs, ensured that the masterplan was designed to respond sensitively to its unique context.
Designing for the Environment
The development’s Green Belt and AONB location required not just the mitigation of unavoidable loss of green land – but exceptional enhancements to the surrounding environment.
Biodiversity protection and ecological enhancement are always at the forefront of our design approach. Existing features of the WMI site needed to be respected and as far as possible, the existing landscape preserved and enhanced. Where existing features are to be lost, the masterplan’s design provides extensive mitigation areas. It creates two new country parks spanning 109 acres, with the local community engaged in their design and long-term management.
The local environmental assessment includes nocturnal monitoring and surveys of bat and badger populations and activity, as well as design interventions such as artificial setts to protect the otters that commute through the canal which is itself subject to a canal enhancement strategy. In addition to enhancements of heritage canal features there is also a programme of archaeological work across the site to identify and record late Bronze Age features prevalent in the local area.
Earth bunds and extensive planting, forming structural landscaping buffers on the perimeter of the site, will create a visual screen and restrict views towards the development while enhancing the immediate environment for wildlife and people. The planting of new woodland and tree belts utilising native and locally occurring species will provide a net gain in woodland and tree planting areas across the scheme.
Designing for People
Following planning approval for the masterplan, we are also designing the detail for the first plots to be constructed on the 300-hectare site for its developers Oxford Properties and LCP.
Our designers have applied sensitive massing and elevation treatments to plots which are overlooked by the AONB to mitigate the visual impact of the buildings, including pixelated facades which change colour from darker to lighter greens and greys depending on different viewpoints.
Delivering ESG and Social Value is an important consideration. In addition to local community-focused landscaping and recreational elements, on-site office facilities are being designed to incorporate WELLTM Standard principles to enhance user physical and emotional wellbeing. Working environments will be spaces that people enjoy, with features such as plenty of natural daylight and views out of the buildings, along with an array of amenities and facilities to encourage healthy lifestyle and transportation behaviours.
Design at the Forefront
Throughout the design process of this significant infrastructure project the project teams worked carefully to identify and incorporate creative design solutions to minimise and mitigate as far as possible any adverse impacts. The development of the design also addressed targeting net zero carbon, the sustainable management of energy, water, waste and transportation, and the appropriate specification of materials. Indoor environmental quality and user well-being will reflect WELLTM criteria, and the development is aiming for BREEAM excellent or outstanding rating and LEED Certification.
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