Catalyst Ltd are UrbanWorkSpace veterans who’ve been Branston Court tenants for a decade. As an office of seven, they really needed a space that was large enough for all of them – housed on the top former factory floor of Branston Court’s Hockley Terrace, they certainly got their wish. Being an architectural practice, they needed a central location with good transport links and a rich history to draw inspiration from for their own work.
We got talking to Catalyst’s Head of Design, Akram Bonham, to find out more about the work that Catalyst do and how Branston Court ended up being the perfect base for them.
Hi Akram, great to meet you. Tell us a little bit about Catalyst and what you do.
There are actually two arms of Catalyst’s business. We have our architectural practice – Catalyst Regeneration, and then we also do contracting under the name Catalyst Contracting.
We work on a broad spectrum of building and design projects across the UK ranging from schools, shops and restaurants to luxury apartments. We also do a lot of mosque design and are really passionate about modernising and restoring old mosques.
That sounds incredibly varied! We’ve noticed you’ve got a lot of Islamic art in your office – how did you get started working on mosques?
35 years ago I was asked to design my first mosque and the passion grew from there. They really liked the results and ended up recommending us to colleagues in the faith – since then we’ve gone on to design mosques all over the UK.
Nice! What kind of projects are you working on at the moment?
Because architectural projects take time to complete, we’re always adding new projects to our list to make sure we’re always busy. We’re almost finished with some luxury apartments on the Bristol Road, which we’re very pleased with. We’ve also got some work on for a 150 bedroom hotel and we’re always doing restoration work in one form or another – at the moment we’re working on a women’s shelter.
How did you get into architecture?
My father was an architect actually, and I was on the path to pursuing a career in genetics and biochemistry before realising that architectural design was my true calling. I ended up doing the thing that most young men try to avoid – following in my dad’s footsteps! Besides, I always loved drawing too much to ever really do anything else.
What made you choose UrbanWorkSpace as Catalyst’s home?
I had actually worked with Gerry Pountney before on some of his other regeneration projects. I’d even done some planning work on Branston Court before it was made into offices. So when the time came to look for an office for Catalyst, Gerry and his numerous buildings immediately sprung to mind.
What drew you to the space here?
I knew as soon as I heard that units were becoming available that this top former jewellery design studio was the one for us. The light source from the old style factory windows is ideal for what we do here with our architectural drawings. The history in this place is really fantastic, it’s amazing really that a building that’s over a hundred years old can still be used as a workspace now.
You’ve been here for 10 years so we must be doing something right. What would you say your favourite thing about being an UrbanWorkSpace tenant is?
We’d have to say the relationships we’ve formed as a result of being here. It’s great being somewhere where you can interact and work with people from different industries – it opens up the possibility to collaborate on projects and in fact we do work with a lot of the other tenants.
Location is also a big bonus for this place as it’s close enough to the City Centre without being too close and you’re able to walk to places for lunch fairly easily. The transport links are ideal, if I ever need to go into Birmingham city centre I normally jump on the tram so I don’t have to worry about parking.
Have you changed anything about the space since being here?
We really wanted to preserve its authenticity so we didn’t change much besides shortening the space. Initially we had the entire top floor but we ended up blocking off the bottom section as we didn’t need all that space. It also meant that the Branston team were able to turn that bottom section into another unit.
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