TouchBase Pears Centre

Glenn Howells Architects
, Birmingham, 2017


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The centre is a new regional hub for the national charity Sense and brings together 120 previously dispersed staff from around the West Midlands 

Rob Parrish     Download Original

  • The centre is a new regional hub for the national charity Sense and brings together 120 previously dispersed staff from around the West Midlands    
  • The façade comprises a high-quality brickwork base with a series of modest, punctuated windows at ground-floor level and then two storeys of deep precast concrete piers and sills set on a 1.5m grid    
  • The two elements are separated by a clerestory ribbon of glazing    
  • The building    
  • The large size of this foyer means it is able to accommodate several quotidian activities simultaneously    
  • Sense    
  • Occupying the two lengths of upper storey are offices    
  • The exposed angular skylights    
  • Four entrances are placed on each of the building’s façades    
  • Site plan    
  • Ground floor plan    
  • First floor plan    
  • Section AA    
  • Front elevation    
  • Rear elevation    
  • 3D bay detail    

A £10 million development for Sense boasts a bright and spacious hub for the deafblind charity.

A roughly cruciform reception/foyer/café is the defining space of this project. The main north-south arm is long and low and it is punctuated by natural light, dropping from elongated skylights let into chamfered openings cast into the concrete ceiling. This gives the space a subtle gradation and creates a comfortable, human-scaled feel. The cruciform neatly divides the floorplate into four; corralling and defining four variously secure ‘bases’ off the public foyer/hub. Each focuses on a different set of activities for clients and staff: day services, health and wellbeing, performance/hall space and administration. These ‘bases’ of course need to provide a secure, controlled environment for different clients and uses.

The architectural vision for TouchBase called for an exposed concrete frame to tie the building’s structural and environmental strategies together into one, fabric-first solution. Its structural frame was constructed in a traditional reinforced concrete (RC) flat slab on RC concrete columns, which were in turn supported on RC pad foundations. As the frame had exposed soffits and columns on a 7.5m grid, detailed formwork setting out was conducted to ensure the soffits’ regularity.

The concrete soffit is part of the building’s passive environmental strategy through its exposed thermal mass. The visual contrasts between materials and surfaces – which aid those with sensory impairments and for which the magnolia/blue colour scheme is usually the default solution – have been achieved through cleaner contrasts of a range of more primary-coloured elements, including furniture, resulting in a bright, open environment. 

In an effort to reduce the time that the reinforcement was exposed to the elements, the team selected a prefabricated reinforcement mat, which was fabricated offsite and finally rolled out when the formwork was in place. This method enabled the engineering team to prevent rust from staining the formwork and discolouring the exposed soffit surface.


  • Begun: Jan 2016
  • Completed: Jul 2017
  • Floor area: 4,042m2
  • Sectors: Office, Healthcare
  • Total cost: £10M
  • CO2 Emissions: 22.4kg/m2/year
  • Address: 750 Bristol Rd, Birmingham, B29 6NA, United Kingdom

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