Bishop's Goods Yard multi-storey: I've tried to 'get it', but it's just plain ugly
In one of my previous lives I had a very good friend, Richard, who introduced me to James Taylor, for which I shall be eternally grateful. Richard was an emotionally intense character, so I wasn’t surprised when, in our early twenties, he announced that he was going to change career direction and train to be an architect.
As well as Sweet Baby James, Richard enlightened me about architects, that they were a sort of cross between building engineers and artists. It seems they constantly suffer torment trying to get their vision built whilst battling against the irrefutable laws of physics, which limit what can be done to make a new architectural sculpture breath-taking whilst retaining the ability to stand up.
Another thing I learned was that new buildings could make a statement about where they sit in the context of the whole – mostly a complementary statement – but sometimes in bold contrast. Think Shard, folks. New buildings offer the opportunity to reinforce the ‘feel’ of the place in which they stand, by echoing the historic uses of the site and reflecting the original architecture, where it still exists.
So where is all this going?
Well, anyone who is an ardent follower of social media cannot have failed to observe the reaction by regular contributors to the cladding finish on the first of the multi-storey car parks to be built on the Bishop's Goods Yard site. You know the one – six storeys high, bordering Anchor Street and forming a dark and dismal canyon between itself and the leisure complex on the other side of the road, and now covered in rusty steel.
I have to say I’ve tried really hard to understand the external finish on this building.
Back in the day, Richard and I had many deep and meaningful discussions about the responsibility of architects, given the typical lifetime of a structure, to administer to the community a bit of a shake-up and encourage them to look deeper into their souls to see the often obtuse meaning that the architect is trying to express on their behalf, so that when they get the message they say “Oh, yeah!” and feel better for it. So I’ve tried over the years to engage with building designs and find the meaning, often with some success. On this occasion, however, I’m finding it quite difficult.
For a start, from every direction, it is a dark and rusty brown. This is less than charming for the residents of the lower floors of the flats in Anchor Street. They will already be losing sky from the existence of the car park, and any hope of borrowed light from a bright, clean, reflective cladding is lost.
Anchor Street in particular, which is very narrow, has the existing façade of the not-very-much-loved leisure complex with its generally depressing and ugly tunnel-like entrance, but at least there used to be a view of the sky. Not any more, folks.
All we see now is a dark rusty brown cliff face of a structure that looks like an abandoned and derelict factory, adding to the already dismal and depressing entrance area of the complex.
I wonder what drove the architectural design in this case?
Well, a quick search among the 250 or so planning documents that accompany the granted application for the development reveals a short report, by Allies & Morrison (A&M), the urban planners and consultants that produced the generally splendid town centre planning framework.
A&M, in an opinion on the Goods Yard developer’s design proposals, said this about the car parks: “The design of the car parks as structure with a wrapping of steel panels that echo a former industrial building in silhouette is a positive idea and an attractive way of dealing with this building form in a contemporary contextual way.”
So, apparently, the hint of Gothic arches where windows might have been – some perforated, some not – is intended to make the buildings evocative and acceptable in the context of the industrial uses that the area was subjected to a hundred or more years ago, to tug at our nostalgic heart strings and say “what a lovely way of reminding us of our industrial heritage!” Sorry, that doesn’t work for me. As far as I know, such a factory never stood on or anywhere near this site.
Much as I don’t want to be philistine about this, it feels like little more than a dose of the emperor’s new clothes combined with a touch of architectural self-indulgence.
If you want to see what industry looked like back in the day, look at the Maltings, which happen to be built of brick, not rusty steel plates.
The developer does, however, pay homage to our true industrial heritage in one other very real way. He justifies the final height of his overall scheme by comparing it with the precedent that is the Maltings – although not stating it in the number of courses of bricks, it seems.
Richard, I don’t get it. You and I need to have another chat.