PBA’s historic role in bringing business parks to the UK


PBA’s historic role in bringing business parks to the UK

15 June 2018

UKHistoric England recently granted listed status to 17 postmodern buildings around the UK including buildings on the Aztec West business park, a project that PBA bought to life.

In the 1970s, when the American space programme was at its peak, business parks began to emerge in the USA to support the developing IT and computer industries. By the late 1970s, the notion of business parks was beginning to reach the UK and PBA was approached by Electricity Supply Nominees (ESN), through architects Farrell Grimshaw, to evaluate the possibility of developing a 170-acre site on the edge of Bristol. This was the origin of Aztec West.

With no UK examples to call on, Francis Connolly, one of PBA’s Founder Partners, flew out to San Jose to find out what a development of this kind would require. He was given an office in City Hall where he met with the highway authority, fire department and local utility companies. He admits the results were worrying:

“When discussing the Aztec West site with the US highway authority they were concerned because they couldn’t see a major freeway for access to the site. They thought the newly-constructed M5 was just a local road. Similarly, AT&T suggested that we plan for the site to have 20,000 phone lines but at the time Post Office Telephones could only provide us with 400.”

Despite the many challenges posed by infrastructure and the inflexible planning system tied to the time of old industries, the team gained the support from the district council and over the following months and years overcame the obstacles to build the UK’s first Business Park, officially opened by Margaret Thatcher in 1989.

PBA coordinated the overall development, providing civil engineering for the whole site and structural engineering for many of the buildings, including the one that received listed status from Historic England.

The work on Aztec West meant that PBA became an authority on business parks. Francis commented:

“When I was first involved with Aztec West, never in my wildest dreams did I realise this was to lead us into more than 30 major business park developments. Our experience led to PBA’s appointment on projects including Gillingham and Kings Hill in Kent, Thames Valley Park and Green Park in Reading, Swan Valley in Northampton, Solent Business Park in Fareham, Brandenburg Park and Konigs Wustenhausen in Berlin and many more.”

One of these developments was the MacKay Trading Estate in Slough, incidentally the home of the only other commercial building to be awarded listed status by Historic England in the recent announcement.

The new Historic England listings have been agreed by the Government to offer protection to postmodern buildings following recent losses that troubled some architecture experts.

The fact that two of the listed buildings reside on PBA developments shows that we engineer buildings that not only meet clients’ needs and deliver quality for the current built environment but also stand the test of time. Even on business parks, PBA has created environments and buildings that are worth preserving for future generations.

Related links