Studios ready to transmit within eighteen
BRIAN VERTIGAN talks to the man who headed
the team that designed the ATV Centre,
architect RICHARD SEIFERT.
WHEN Mr. Richard Seifert
accepted the job of designing the new ATV
Centre there was one overriding condition - the
television studios had to be ready to transmit
in July 1969 - in 18 months.
For the first meeting
between Mr. Seifert, the architect, and ATV to
work out what was wanted on this city centre
site took place only in December, 1967.
The reason for the time
limit was that one of the conditions of ATV
being granted the franchise for the Midlands
area was that it should have a new headquarters
in the Midlands, ready to transmit, by July,
Six months after this first
meeting the architects had finished designing
the £20m scheme in principle and the
television studios part of the development was
completed in detail when the contractors, C.
Bryant and Son Ltd., Birmingham, moved on to
the site on June 8, 1968.
R. Seifert and Partners, of
London, was among a number of architects
considered by ATV for designing its Birmingham
headquarters. A final short-list of three firms
was drawn up; after interviews, Seifert,
designer of many other famous buildings, such
as Centre Point in London, was chosen.
The design of a television
centre, with all the complexities of television
production, is not something an architect comes
across very often. To profit by the mistakes
made in the past, Seifert visited television
cetres in Copenhagen, Brussels, New York and
All had one common fault:
they were built on one or two floors and
consequently the different sections of the
centre were spread over a large area. The
peculiarities - or, as it turned out, the
assets - of the Birmingham site enabled this to
be avoided. From one side of the site to the
other the level differs by 20ft.
This made it possible to
design the television centre on five floors.
All vehicles using it - such as outside
broadcast units and express messengers - can
drive straight into the building from Bridge
It is Britain's first
television centre designed from the beginning
with colour in mind and is considered to be the
most advanced to be built in this country since
The three studios were
placed in the centre of the building. To ensure
that no noise or vibration affects them, each
had been built rather ike a suspended box,
sitting on a flexible base which prevents sound
and vibration affecting it.
Because there are more and
more aircraft flying over the city, the roof
has been made specially thick to prevent their
noise being heard during a transmission - it
does somewhat spoil the effect of a tense scene
of a play set in Victorian England to hear the
engines of a Jumbo jet passing over!
Designing a television
centre presents unusual problems - like making
provision for 600 tons of refridgeration plant,
which is needed to keep the studios cool. The
extra lighting needed for colour creates
considerable heat, which has to be
The studios are different
for producers and directors. In other
television centres, the producer and director
look on to the television stage, but at ATV
they have their backs to the stage so that they
see only the monitor screens - what the people
in their homes are seeing and not the whole
stage. This idea is working most
All the artists are "fed on
to" the stage from the north end of the
building, and the scenery enters from the south
end. Above the studios at the north end is the
technical area, including control rooms. Under
the studios are the preview seating for 80 and
the fil processing laboratories.
Probably not many people
realise just how much energy is required to
operate the television centre. Not counting
human energy, it takes 3m watts to operate. Yet
with all this power being consumed, only a
quarter of a watt goes out of the building
along the cable to the Post Office Tower for
From the start it was
decided that this premier site in Birmingham
should include other buildings than the
Mr. Seifert explained: "It
was determined from a very early stage that an
office building of about 200,000 sq ft would be
incorporated into the scheme; and to allow this
to be built, and yet leave plenty of land for
landscaping and walkways, it was decided to
make it a tall building."
So the focal point of the
development is to be a 300ft-high slender
office tower block.
Originally there was to be a
30,000sq ft exhibition / conference /
banqueting hall at the centre of the
development; this has now been extended to
Mr Seifert commented: "The
fact that Birmingham is to be the site of the
National Exhibition Centre will make Birmingham
even more important and the need for this
mini-exhibition hall in the centre of the city
will be even greater."
Originally it was planned to
place the hotel alongside the office block; but
the operator of the hotel, Holiday Inns of
America, has altered its requirements and wants
more space. The hotel is now set farther into
the development and the 12-storey building will
adjourn and be linked to the exhibition hall.
It will have about 310 bedrooms, a swimming
pool and restaurants.
The original plans provided
for a 1,250-seat theatre and two linked
cinemas, each with seating for 850. This has
now all been altered. Instead there is now to
be "an unusual entertainment section which will
have a cinema and live entertainment
facilities," Mr. Seifert said. "It is a new
approach to entertainment and is to be operated
by Bernard Delfont's company, Associated
British Productions," added Mr. Seifert.
Other parts of the
development include shops and a tavern, centred
round the two-level piazza and connected to the
new bus terminal and central reference library
in Paradise Circus; and a high-level walkway to
New Street Station and the Hall of Memory area.
Beneath the development is an underground
multi-storey park for 634 cars.
It will be three more years
until the whole scheme is finished, but the
structure for the development should be
completed in just over two years.
So far the builders have
been supplied with more than 12,000 drawings by
the architects, surveyors and engineers - and
these are for the television centre and the
foundations of the rest of the scheme only. By
the time the development is finished the number
of drawings will have trebled.
There have been about 25
architects working on the scheme, and,
including quantity surveyors and structural
engineers , about 100 people in the design
Mr. George Marsh, a partner
of Mr. Seifert, had worked with him on the
Mr. Seifert summed up for
both of them: "There is a great deal of
satisfaction to be derived from seeing such a
scheme gradually take shape. We have all
enjoyed working on it - and we still are."