MIDSTEEPLE QUARTER IDEAS COMPETITION
The Stove Network / GIA
Our proposal envisages a natural habitat at the centre of a thriving community block. The ‘crust’ of the block is conceived as a density of living accommodation above a re-invigorated retail and commercial base which contains a new public garden incorporating sculptural timber worksheds. ‘Steamie’ outbuildings (wash houses) still found locally within the regions back land gardens, are reinterpreted as worksheds for the creative industries to flourish within a natural landscape in the heart of town. The planted open courtyards between the creative ‘steamies’ provide opportunities for play, relaxation, cultivation, biodiversity, networking as well as a wonderful visual amenity for residents and visitors to enjoy. The creative ‘steamies’ are arranged in the garden within a new rig pattern drawn from the existing high street townhouses. The existing rear rig buildings are cleared to liberate the heart of the block for this creative centre, and at the same time, capture the full potential of this south facing site.
Infill structures, at specific locations, complete and consolidate the ‘crust’ of the living block. The Irish Street infill piece comprises new townhouses above an arched podium base. The townhouses include private gardens to complement and visually extend the new public garden. Below the townhouses, through the podium arches accessed from Irish Street, a garage facility provides a useful and much needed car parking requirement in the heart of the town for residents and badge holders. This facility addresses an issue, voiced at the public consultation, for several local people who feel excluded from visiting town.
Spanning between the rear of the Bakers Oven and the council building fronting Irish Street is a new south facing student housing infill block containing and engaging with the north edge of the garden. The arch theme, taken from the simple arched alleys found in the town connecting the high street to the backlands, continues at the podium base and façade with arched fenestration. The massing above podium level is stepped to respect the sub-divided scale of the adjacent high street townhouses. The arched fenestration is deliberately conceived to allow south facing balcony space and thereby promote further living interaction with the public garden. The Bakers Oven becomes an important gateway to the student housing and is conceived as a building that provides the facilities to connect the University to the town centre. With this in mind, and in order for the Bakers Oven to be a building that is fully utilised throughout the day and night, a Students Union would provide a number of beneficial uses not only to the University and town centre but most importantly to the students who would define its culture and atmosphere.
Another positive outcome of the existing rear rig buildings being removed is that it allows the High Street upper levels to become meaningful dual aspect flats enjoying both street and garden views. Bank Street upper levels also enjoy a similar front and rear relationship. The retail base fronting the High Street is given a subtle yet transformative proposition for the public approach. Existing arch alleyways and new café/restaurant entrances are transformed into projecting canopies into the street which continue through to the garden. These structural arches act as a new conduit between street and garden drawing the public through the ‘crust’ to engage with the centre. The arches project into the garden and grow to become linked fluted canopies providing south facing shade and shelter to the café and restaurant terraces thereby taking advantage of this prime historical high street position for the public to enjoy. Again, a similar condition is envisaged to the Bank Street retail base. Towards the bottom of Bank Street, the only non-listed structure is replaced with a new townhouse similar in composition to the Irish Street infill. The arched base allows a direct connection through to the centre and a diagonal pathway dissects the garden and connects the creative ‘steamies’ up towards the Bakers Oven. The block has thereby been transformed into a welcoming public space with access from the three main streets surrounding the block.
The proposal has sought to address many important issues raised through the public consultation. Our vision, underpinned by the outcomes of this consultation, is of an inclusive community block where all ages of people want to live, work, and socialise within the back drop of a landscaped amenity which promotes a palpable sense of sustainability, wellbeing and creative use at its centre.