Meet the Brummie architect reaching for the sky with new 49-storey tower

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The designer of Birmingham’s proposed new Octagon super tower has revealed how falling ill with diabetes gave him the ability to reach for the sky.

If plans for the giant Paradise scheme fronting Summer Row are approved next month, the 49-storey building will open in 2024 and be 11ft taller than the 499ft BT Tower which opened in September 1966.

Now 46, Brummie architect Dav Bansal’s spirit of adventure began with a life-changing moment in 1992.

“I don’t know what caused it but when I was 19 and a first-year student at Leicester’s De Montfort University, I fell ill with diabetes and was diagnosed with Type 1,” said Mr Bansal.

“It made me realise that you should not think too hard and hold yourself back and that, unless you do something you enjoy, life will just pass you by.”

Following seven years of training, he later helped to remodel Birmingham’s most famous 20th century building.

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“We removed half of the concrete from the Rotunda and replaced it with carbon fibre to create residential apartments,” he told BusinessLive.

 “I was starting a family but young and eager to learn.”

Now a partner with city-based Glenn Howells Architects, Mr Bansal hopes his Octagon will earn the right to be labelled the city’s “third genuine landmark building” after the Rotunda itself and Alpha Tower.

“You can’t just create a landmark, iconic building – the Rotunda has earned its iconic status, instantly recognisable and very dynamic in terms of shape,” he said.

“Octagon will be the same on all sides and have little wind resistance compared to a rectangle – and what could have been the back of Paradise will still look like an entrance.

“You have to ask yourself three questions: ‘Is it buildable, viable and maintainable?’ but I think we’ve created a building that will feel like Birmingham.

“The 25-year life expectancy of the fittings will prolong the life of the building.”

Dav Bansal, partner at Glenn Howells Architects in Birmingham
Dav Bansal, partner at Glenn Howells Architects in Birmingham

Every flat will have a panoramic view and the pressurised core will extract smoke in the unlikely event of a fire.

Workers will be suspended in a top-down cradle to clean the windows which could be left open without it raining in.

The height of each window will mask interior clutter like sofas without spoiling the exterior appearance further protected by universal blinds.

Mr Bansal’s family originates from India but then constructed “life-saving” roads in Tanzania, Eastern Africa, before events in countries like Uganda saw them relocate.

Once in Birmingham, his engineer father worked in a nuts and bolts factory while his economist mother joined a Smethwick foundry before teaching.

His father founded an import-export business to supply materials to Tanzania but lost everything in an economic crisis, became homeless and had to start again.

“That’s why my dad’s not fazed by anything,” said Mr Bansal, who has two younger sisters.

“Even at 70, he doesn’t worry about covid-19.”

Mr Bansal designed the new 49-storey Octagon resi tower in Birmingham city centre
Mr Bansal designed the new 49-storey Octagon resi tower in Birmingham city centre

Mr Bansal’s journey to become an architect began as a schoolboy sitting on the back seat of the family’s Volvo 760 saloon.

He became fascinated by the car’s dashboard and how its design had to support so many different functions.

Today, he uses maths to solve problems with physics – all through the eye of an artist.

“When I look at what my family did with civil engineering in Tanzania, I could see how simple design could change so many lives,” he said.

“I’ve learned about a lot of things around the world and don’t understand the rationale of glass-covered buildings – if there are parts you can’t see through, use something else.

“I also prefer the term ‘placemakers’ to developers – we’re working for Argent in Paradise.

“Look what Argent did in Brindleyplace, they are not fly-by-nights. They are interested in legacy, history in the making in the city.

“Right at the beginning (of Paradise), we were told that, over 20 to 25 years, there could be a number of recessions or other things and they should not restrain us from continuing with the ambition that good quality can be special and you can leave a place better than you found it as part of the life cycle.”

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Like his father before him, Mr Bansal wears a turban but since he’s also non-practising has let his two boys grow up without growing their hair.

“I guess it’s a form of ID and maybe I’m a role model.

“But I am self-critical and always want to be a better designer, nothing to do with any criteria about being ‘diverse’ or anything like that.

“Design is subjective, so the best thing you can do is your homework.

“With Paradise, we looked at the crown jewels like Birmingham Town Hall and the masterplan came from that.”

For more information about Octagon and to have your say, visit the website www.octagonbirmingham.co.uk before Tuesday, May 26, 2020.

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