The School of Art

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Project Value:






Grade I Listed

Civic Trust Award 1998

RIBA Award 1996

Revolutionary design

Tucked behind the main artery of Birmingham’s business district is a masterpiece of Venetian Gothic architecture. The School of Art is a breathtaking Grade I listed building, born from the Ruskin-inspired philosophy for art education that was flowing through the city at the time.

Open since 1885, the School is the finest example of the work of architect JH Chamberlain. Sadly by the late 1980’s the building had fallen into disrepair. We were approached by Birmingham City University to prepare a comprehensive scheme of refurbishment and extension, when they became its custodian.

Phased refurbishment

To ensure our proposals were authoritative and sensitive to this wonderful building, we undertook a period of thorough research and survey work. The first phase of work between the cleaned and repaired the external façade, revealing its details and fierce colours. The second phase restored and reorganised the internal spaces. Numerous specialist trade skills were employed in repairing original details, including the oak sash windows and Craven Dunhill ceramic floors. We also worked with a lighting manufacturer to design a bespoke lighting system for the School.

New mechanical and electrical services and the infrastructure for data networks were installed throughout, harmonising the modern facilities with surrounding gothic architecture. At the second floor level a new gallery was created, providing a large space for exhibitions. The building’s former lightwell became home to a new passenger lift, making the School an fully accessible educational facility for the first time.

An exceptional survivor

Today the School of Art is a city centre showcase for Birmingham City University; one that is  a fitting and dramatic counterpoint to the University’s nearby City Centre Campus. We continue to be involved with the building and its inhabitants. As followers and supporters of Birmingham’s art and design community we have engaged with many of the students and academics who have passed through the School. In 2014 we featured the building in our Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces project and documented the building’s fascinating history for a wider audience.

Our refurbishment of the School of Art remains an impressive project for the practice, as both a major chapter in our work with Birmingham City University but also as an opportunity to add to the history of one of Birmingham’s most beloved and beautiful buildings.