British steel

Trish Lorenz looks at attempts to rediscover British identity in civic and commercial design

Take Letchworth, which is known for its fine gardens. Architect DSDHA’s winning entry included a community glass house that could be used for gardening shows, farmers markets and dinners, reflecting the town’s horticultural passion and building on its sense of identity.

DSDHA director Deborah Saunt says the practice ‘didn’t want to inject cappuccino culture into the building’. Instead, it looked at the history of Letchworth, ‘which was founded on principles of suburban living and sustainability and was the world’s first garden city’.

In Stockport, architect ABK’s winning entry added a ‘translucent’ roof to the town square, to ‘create a large public room suitable for the British climate’, says ABK director David Cruse.

‘The space is open to everyone and would include voting buttons [on seating] so people can take part in the political process,’ says Cruse. ‘It’s designed to re-engage with the community, especially [disenfranchised groups] such as older people and the unemployed.’

Architectural practice Bauman Lyons, which created the winning entry for Bradford City Hall, incorporated a ‘living museum’, including an exhibition area and history trail through civic spaces, designed to ‘capture Bradford’s past and present in all its diversity’, explains Rogers.

Rogers points out that Bradford, with its recent racially motivated disturbances, is a city that ‘risks becoming a very divided place’. Its town hall, he believes, plays a vital role in ‘bringing the two communities together.’

He adds, ‘Public buildings are icons of a nation. They define us by shared citizenship [rather than] by ideals of ethnicity.’

Peyton believes ‘we’re on a roll’. He sees a ‘greater self confidence about being British’ across the nation. Royal Parks agrees; it is considering opening two more Inn the Parks.

As we approach the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union that brought England and Scotland together, it will be interesting to see if more designers seek to express a sense of national

Trends in civic design

Traditional Town Hall

• Temple-like feel

• Preserve of political class

• Formal with grand entrance

• No retail, no children

• Hush factor

• Closed doors

• Office furniture

New Town Hall

• Talking shop

• Owned by all

• Open evenings and weekends

• Rooftop cafés and bars

• Buzz factor

• Accessible, children welcome

• Domestic furniture

Latest articles