National Westminster House

103 Colmore Row (formerly known as National Westminster House) is a building on Colmore Row, Birmingham, England once owned by NatWest. It is now owned by the developer British Land who received planning permission in September 2008 to replace the tower with a 160 metres (525 ft) office skyscraper.

Current building

The current building is a 23 storey structure with entrances on Colmore Row and Newhall Street. Designed by John Madin, it is of the Brutalist style, contrasting the traditional Victorian architectural styles in the immediate area. Although, the pre-cast concrete panels on the exterior, which were common on commercial buildings of the time, rather than in-situ concrete do make the building differ from classic Brutalism.

Designs for the building were first publicised in 1964 and it was remarked that it had drawn inspiration from the University of Pittsburgh by Louis Kahn. The designs showed a two storey banking hall with a rectangular tower with horizontal ribbon windows. It also showed a service tower facing on to Newhall Street. This design differed significantly to the one that was approved by Birmingham City Council. The scheme also included a five storey office block to the west of the site that was separated from it by an L-shaped courtyard. This office block was later reclad and increased to eight storeys in 1996-7 so that it reads as a separate building. The entire scheme was named the "Colmore Centre". The first phase of the scheme, which consisted of the construction of the banking hall, was completed in 1969. Construction of the tower began in 1973 and was completed three years later at a total cost of £3.5 million.

The building was constructed so that it was not purely occupied by the National Westminster Bank but could also be let to tenants so that the bank could maximise the profitability of the site. However, the building proved difficult to let and was never fully occupied with the only major corporation to take office space in the tower was Eversheds. The building has been vacant since 2003.

There are numerous interesting features including the original aluminium-cast banking hall doors, which consist of an abstract triangle design based on the NatWest logo and are painted to resemble bronze. The banking hall itself has a coffered ceiling of plasterboard covered in gold leaf and Travertine marble floors and skirtings. The exterior is covered in abstract plaster murals and bronze matt ceramic tiles. The lift shaft and two ventilation towers are constructed using brick. The structure was constructed of precast concrete with waffle concrete floor slabs. There are four plant floors at the top of the tower and 100 car park spaces in a basement car park that has been left disused upon the discovery of asbestos. The office block was accessed via a stainless steel surround doorway on Newhall Street, where the land begins to drop, exposing the ventilation grills for the basement. The entrance here appears to be of a later date to the rest of the building. The office block has a service core at the centre of each floor, consisting of a large service duct, lavatories, four lift shafts and staircase. The lifts have stainless steel doors and the lift lobby has Travertine panelling on the walls. There is a kitchen on the twentieth floor which retains its original green panels and equipment, such as the dumbwaiter. The NatWest logo was attached to the west side of the building, although has since been removed leaving only the bracketing. It is believed that considerable efforts were made to reduce the cost of the tower's construction, which took place during a time when rising oil prices ended the development boom of the 1960s making an increasingly hostile economic climate. Examples of cost-cutting measures employed during the construction of the building include the use of plasterboard to mimic concrete on the banking hall's ceiling and the use of an alternative metal to bronze for the banking hall doors.

Upon completion, it formed a prominent point on the Birmingham skyline and continues to do so. It is also one of the most modern buildings and the tallest structure in the Colmore Row and Environs Conservation Area, and has become a frequent perching point for the city centre's Peregrine Falcons. Architectural critic Andy Foster described the building as being "the most important Brutalist commercial building in the city, disastrous in context but with its own tremendous integrity."

Approved replacement

In December 2006, British Land acquired the freehold of the tower from Omega Land for £25 million. They announced their intentions to demolish the tower and replace it with another office tower. This will be their first development outside of London.

British Land commissioned Hamilton Architects to design the tower and between 9 October and 11 October 2007, they hosted a public consultation in the banking hall of 103 Colmore Row to showcase their proposals. The proposal at the public consultation was 163 metres (534.8 ft) tall to the top of a light mast and consisted of 28 occupiable office floors and three plant levels. The tower would be the tallest building in the city, only surpassed by the proposed VTP200. It had a roof height of 137 metres (449 ft). GVA Grimley have been hired as planning consultants and the project will cost £160 million.

A planning application was submitted to Birmingham City Council by GVA Grimley on behalf of British Land on 25 April 2008 for the tower with alterations made to that exhibited in October 2007. It was registered by the city council on the same day was given a planning application reference number of C/02353/08/FUL. A cheque made payable to Birmingham City Council of £61,265 was submitted with the planning application. The proposal was summarised on the Birmingham City Council Planning Department website as:

Alterations were made to the height, with it being reduced by 3.5 metres (11 ft) to 159.5 metres (523 ft) and the roof height to 134.5 metres (441 ft). The new design also had a further four floors of reception and retail space with the Colmore Row elevation consisting of a four storey colonnade. The tower will also have a green roof to act as a natural habitat for protected bird species and will also provide a 30% reduction in energy use. British Land also hope to achieve a BREEAM 'Excellent' rating for the building. As it is proposed to be constructed on the highest ground in the city centre, it will be one of the most prominent buildings on the skyline. Savills will market the building and it is thought over 2,500 jobs will be created as a result.

The proposal initially received the backing of the Birmingham Civic Society who said that they were 90% happy with the design, however the organisation reversed their decision. The project also met objections from the Twentieth Century Society and the Victorian Society who commented that they were "extremely disappointed" with the proposal. After the public consultation, efforts were made to seek granting the building listed building status from English Heritage. Upon the submission of the planning application, English Heritage wrote to Birmingham City Council that they had concluded that the building should not be listed due to the fact that whilst the building had good qualities of massing, it lacked the high degree of sophisticated architectural detailing that would be expected of a building from this period. They also said that modifications made to the building in the 1990s had considerably compromised the building's architecture and that the interior lacked coherence, although they did comment that the interior of the banking hall did contain many interesting original features.

The proposal received planning permission from Birmingham City Council in late-September 2008. It was closely contested with six councillors voting against the scheme and seven voting for it.