Technical Study: Restoring Birmingham Selfridges’ cladding

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Future Systems’ Selfridges has donned temporary garb of greater gaudiness while faults are fixed in the glittering blue chainmail below. Thomas Lane explains the technical challenges. Photography by Oliver Lane

When the covers came off the newly completed Birmingham branch of Selfridges in 2003, the city paused for breath. Brought up on a thin diet of mostly characterless, orthogonal, concrete boxes, for locals the new store was a genuine showstopper and a first for the city.

The retailer wanted a distinctive building that did not need a sign saying “Selfridges” over the door so commissioned Future Systems, an architect known for pushing design boundaries, to come up with something radical. The answer was a rich cobalt blue, curvaceous, sculptural form covered in 16,000 shiny aluminium discs – said to have been inspired by a Paco Rabanne chainmail-effect dress. It certainly succeeded in bringing a splash of glamour to an otherwise pedestrian shopping centre.

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