At Her Majesty’s Pleasure

Gatehouse, HMP Birmingham © Historic England, James O. Davies

Andy Foster, who’s researching the forthcoming Pevsner volume covering Birmingham and the Black Country,  got in touch about this building last week and I thought a blog post would be in order.

So this is HKPA’s gatehouse for HMP Birmingham. The prison opened in 1849 to the designs of the Birmingham architect Daniel R. Hill. HKPA were commissioned to design a high-security complex to manage entry, admissions and discharge from the prison. Paddy Lawlor’s design, completed in 1987, echoes the strong turrets of the Victorian gatehouse it replaced:

HKPA gatehouse
Gatehouse, HMP Birmingham. © Historic England, James O. Davies


This is  HKPA at their most Post-Modern, but has all the super-charged gutsiness and anthropomorphism of their early work. Late 1990s photographs by James O. Davies for English Heritage’s monograph on prisons.

From the north east. © Historic England, James O. Davies
From the north west. © Historic England, James O. Davies





Survival of the fittest: HKPA’s ideas competition for Darwin College

Studying the drawings at HKPA’s archive last summer, I noticed this label on ‘roll 24’:


These, I discovered, are the drawings for HKPA’s in-house ideas competition for their additions to Darwin College, Cambridge (designed 1965-6, built 1967-8). It’s slightly ironic that while these have survived, the practice’s main set of drawings for the job appear to be missing (although Darwin retain a full set).

The base drawings – showing existing buildings – are dated 4 March 1965, so I suppose the competition was held a little after that date. Bill Howell mentioned an ‘office competition’ when presenting a revised scheme to the College in May. Most of the entrants had a go at the challenge of slotting a new dining hall into a narrow gap between the Hermitage (left on the photo below) and Newnam Terrace (right), ensuring privacy and security for those in the garden while maintaining visual connections between Newnham Road and the Backs. Here’s what got built:

Newnham Terrace

But not everyone took the brief so seriously:




The HKP Churchill Competition entry crossed with Ron Herron’s walking city! Another anonymous entrant tried their hand at a Gothic decorated shed (minus shed):


The competition was mentioned in Jill Lever’s 2002 interview with John Partridge for the National Life Stories Collection. [Lever ran HKPA’s practice library when they were based in 4 Fitzroy Square, and the interview is well worth a listen]:

 Jill Lever: The office was fun at that time […] there was a one-day competition, wasn’t there, when everyone was invited.

John Partridge: ‘that was for Darwin College, we had the job of the new dining hall at Darwin as well as redoing a bit of the Hermitage and a small bit of students’ accommodation. It wasn’t quite turning the corner […] but it was a problem of how to put a dining hall there and to get through to the garden which then went down to the side water of the Cam, and we discussed this and decided to have an office competition. I know I did one that was sort of rectangular with roof lighting. Did it in a morning, wasn’t very good! Everybody did one, I think, well most people, there were one or two who wouldn’t; even the secretaries did. It was great fun.