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Tom Bloxham – The Innovator

Posted on Nov 10, 2014 by

Urban Splash has been credited with pioneering innovative urban regeneration and has gained particular acclaim for transforming post-industrial towns in the north of England. Based in Manchester, the firm has been responsible for the redevelopment of decaying industrial warehouses and mills and dilapidated Victorian terraced houses. We spoke to Chairman and Co-Founder Tom Bloxham about creating new legacies for our cities and their iconic buildings.

This feature was taken from the launch issue of Warehouse Home. To enjoy the publication in full click here.

Tom Bloxham, Chairman & Co-Founder, Urban Splash

Tom Bloxham, Chairman & Co-Founder, Urban Splash

Tom Bloxham cares deeply about Britain’s cities and their potential. “I hate seeing identical high streets, with the same shops and the same fascias,” he declares passionately. “We should celebrate the diversity of Britain’s cities. And what makes our cities so unique is their historic buildings. Like me, many people feel very strongly about these heritage buildings. They play a huge part in local civic pride – and rightly so. They might have fallen into disrepair, but often they still have tremendous promise and a very long possible future. They have worn the badge of history and time well. Properly restored, they could continue to do so for many years to come.”

Albert Mill Manchester dates from 1869. Its redevelopment was completed by Urban Splash in 2008

Albert Mill dates from 1869. Its redevelopment was completed by Urban Splash in 2008

Grade II listed Albert Mill Manchester

The Grade II listed former cotton mill Albert Mill is the last of its kind in Manchester city centre

A character home within the Albert Mill development Manchester

A character home within the Albert Mill development.
“Former mills and warehouses have high ceilings and offer large open spaces with the potential to be reconfigured or used in a variety of ways. Frankly, they tend to be much more interesting than a new build.”
Tom Bloxham, Urban Splash

The conversion of former industrial buildings into residential schemes is a more recent phenomenon in the UK than in the USA and Tom recalls that Urban Splash’s pioneering attitude to their restoration was not initially shared. “We kickstarted the loft living revolution in the 1990s. But when we first started developing loft apartments, nobody thought it would catch on. They were in old buildings, located in city centres. Our cities at that time were pretty grim and nobody really wanted to live there. But the urban renaissance that has taken place in the last few years is amazing. Around 70% of the population today do not look at new build homes. That is quite an indictment of house building in this country. Meanwhile, the scale and quality of these heritage conversions compares very favourably with most new-build flats. Former mills and warehouses have high ceilings and offer large open spaces with the potential to be reconfigured or used in a variety of ways. Frankly, they tend to be much more interesting than a new build.” Tom confirms that people who buy or rent in warehouse conversions or loft apartments usually have a keen eye for design and a passion for architecture and history. But above all, he explains, “they are seeking a home with individuality, style and grit.”

The Grade II* listed Lister Mills development, Bradford

On its completion in 1873, Lister Mills was the largest silk mill in the world. The Grade II* listed building still dominates Bradford’s skyline and feature colourful contemporary additions

Lister Mills' contemporary zinc clad rooftop pods, by David Morley Architects, were inspired by the weave of silk threads

Lister Mills’ contemporary zinc clad rooftop pods, by David Morley Architects, were inspired by the weave of silk threads

The restoration of heritage sites and listed buildings comes with many challenges, as well as offering exciting opportunities. Urban Splash works with such renowned and respected architects as Foster + Partners, Glenn Howells and ShedKM as well as running select competitions for locally based designers and emerging talent. When looking at a heritage property, however, Tom summarises that the overarching Urban Splash approach is quite simple. “Whatever is good is restored and celebrated. Where we have to make interventions (for example, to insert new services, fire escapes, extensions), we always try to do so in an uncompromisingly contemporary manner. In this way, visitors can immediately appreciate what was original and enjoy what has been added. I am excited by that visual stimulation – the juxtaposition of the old and new. It is about leaving behind a legacy. By restoring a heritage property we are ensuring its legacy lives on for many years to come. But we are also starting a new legacy, with the modern day additions to the site. They will stand the test of time too. When you think about it, most buildings are adaptations, evolving and changing over time. So it is perfectly appropriate to complement older features with the very best of 21st century design and technology. In their time and in their way, these old buildings would have been groundbreaking. Today, we have a much wider colour palette and range of materials available to us. To draw on contemporary innovations  and materials during redevelopment is entirely in-keeping with the pioneering ethos behind the buildings’ original construction.”

The Coast Path Staircase at Royal William Yard, designed by Gillespie Yunnie Architects

The Coast Path Staircase at Royal William Yard, designed by Gillespie Yunnie Architects

Royal William Yard, Plymouth

“By restoring a heritage property we are ensuring its legacy lives on for many years to come. But we are also starting a new legacy, with the modern day additions to the site.”
Tom Bloxham, Urban Splash

Royal William Yard, Plymouth

“Where we have to make interventions (for example, to insert new services, fire escapes, extensions), we always try to do so in an uncompromisingly contemporary manner. In this way, visitors can immediately appreciate what was original and enjoy what has been added.”
Tom Bloxham, Urban Splash

Over the coming months, we can expect to hear a lot more from Urban Splash. There are, Tom coyly intimates, “one or two” heritage projects under consideration, as well as flexible and customisable new housing and at least one possible hotel scheme. There will be further projects across the country, however Tom is clear that his guiding principle will always remain the same. “I shall not leave my city any less, but rather greater than I found it.”*

* From the Ephebic Oath, sworn by the young men of ancient Greece | Photography courtesy of Urban Splash

This feature was taken from the launch issue of Warehouse Home. To enjoy the publication in full click here or in the reader below.

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