A redundant department store converted into a university campus joins a retrofitted church, an appealed housing scheme and two substantial arenas by HOK in this round of planning consents
This month in Hove John Puttick Associates gives us a rare example of a church being retrofitted not for a change of use but to enhance its community provision, along with the redevelopment of sites in Cardiff and Gateshead for arenas. ADP is giving a lead to planners wondering what to do with the growing pile of redundant department stores by converting a former Debenhams into a campus for the University of Gloucestershire, and tenacity has won the day for a pair of residential towers in Staines by Assael.
Elmsleigh Road towers
In June 2021 this scheme was rejected by the Spelthorne Borough Council – mainly because of the height of the 13- and 15-storeys blocks, and the difference of their aesthetic form to Staines’ existing urban fabric. The council decreed that the two towers would have changed the local townscape too significantly, stating that the ‘development … would not make a positive contribution to the street scene and would have a detrimental impact on the character of the area’. The rejection also commented on an inadequate car parking offer.
On appeal, however, the Inspectorate has turned that decision around, recognising while that the height and aesthetic would lead to ‘minor harm’ to the Memorial Gardens, a Thames-side park neighbouring the application site felt at greatest risk, and added that the scheme in general would not harm the broader area’s character.
Architecturally, the scheme comprises two towers joined with a podium level enclosing parking for 46 cars (enough, according to the Inspectorate) with a residents’ garden upon the roof. The towers have a chamfered form, with four duel- and two single-aspect flats per floor, making a total of 206 flats across both towers. It has been a drawn-out process, but now with planning granted and a CIL notice issued, Assael hopes to start work on the brownfield site later in 2022.
St Leonard’s Church, Hove
In an increasingly secular society, as churches are converted into new uses, it’s refreshing to see a church retrofitted to serve as… a church. The design, combining restoration and new-build elements, seeks to support a growing congregation and facilitate a broader range of community uses.
The internal spatial arrangement is being transformed to offer a variety of uses. Movable lightweight screens separate the choir from main worship area, creating a new space for flexible activity out of service hours. The southern wing becomes a café and flexible use space, with acoustically broken glass doors opening onto the worship area. Other spaces within the new plan provide for smaller-group worship or activities, as well as office admin and a creche/backstage area.
In all, it’s a modern adaption of church architecture to suit not only contemporary services, but also broader congregational uses. The adjustment for modern needs is not only spatial – a dry underfloor heating system means the space will be warmer underfoot and at a more comfortable ambient temperature year round.
The wider site will be updated to offer improved accessibility, with bollard lighting edging new and upgraded resin-bound paths connecting the graveyard, ‘Secret Garden’, and Garden of Rest with the new main porch entrance. That porch is designed to pronounce externally the modernisation inside while respecting the heritage and grammar of the architecture. Angled timber slatting creates a herringbone pattern when the doors are closed, referencing the motif from around the site, while the porch roof’s folded form plays on the spire and pitch of the existing building.
Debenhams retrofit, Gloucester
The ongoing conversation around high street revitalisation and what to do with the nation’s growing archive of abandoned department stores will be informed by this scheme in Gloucester, which is turning the city’s former Debenhams into a university campus. The 1930s Deco building will be fully modernised, offering teaching spaces for medical learning alongside other academic as well as public functions.
ADPs background designing for the healthcare sector fed into its work on this building, creating realistic clinical environments including simulation paramedic facilities, wards, outpatient spaces, and operating theatres. The scale of department stores, however, allows a plural offer, and in this case the project also incorporates a new Students’ Union, exhibition space, university library, lecture theatre, and publicly accessible café – discussions are also continuing with the council about rehoming the city’s public library into the former store.
The debate about retrofit and the value of retaining embedded carbon within existing structures has been growing, and ADP is here seeking to compound the benefit of re-use with improving the building’s energy standards. New design will be low-carbon, and new intelligent building systems will run throughout. Lightwells will be added to bring light deeper into the plan, and routes created across and up the building, forming what the architects calls a ‘social ribbon’ – relating to the pedestrian arcade through the old store – connecting the various academic and community functions.
ADP recognises the public affection for the former department store building, such is the socio-cultural importance that such architecture holds in local consciousness. It intends to refurbish the main facade to reaffirm public presence and ensure a porous ground floor, just as Debenhams once invited the public in from King’s Square, the piazza it addresses. The scheme introduces new approaches to retrofit which merge a civic, private, and public function to find a meaningful occupation of such a vast urban element, and with the number of department stores sitting idle nationally, others could learn from this proposition.
Cardiff Arena, Gateshead Arena
Total site areas: 135,000m² (Cardiff) and 53,000 m² (Gateshead)
Clients: Roberston Property Limited with Live Nation and Oak View Group (Cardiff) Ask Real Estate and Patrizia with ASM Global (Gateshead)
Planning authorities: Cardiff Council and Gateshead Council
Planning refs: 21/02687/MJR (Cardiff) & DC/21/01436/FUL (Gateshead)
Cardiff Bay is set to be transformed through an HOK masterplan comprising 17,000 seater arena, hotel, and flats. The site, just to the north of the Wales Millennium Centre, currently hosts a shopping centre, cinema, bowling alley, and two surface level car parks. The new scheme also intends to repair some of the disjointed urban fabric through a new central pedestrian axis connecting the harbour and Roald Dahl Plass to the new Arena Plaza.
Architecturally, the Cardiff arena celebrates its bulk with a unified dark metal cladding presenting a rock-like massing to the structure. Changeable LED lighting will soften and animate the elevations, while a 204m² screen will overlook the new Arena Plaza. Internally, HOK designed the seating bowl to reduce the number of concourse levels in a multi-purpose space set to host sport, music, and events.
Hoardings had already been erected at the Gateshead site neighbouring Foster + Partners’ Sage concert hall for enabling works for a wider scheme which had received permissions in November 2020. Now planning variations have been achieved, largely relating to the hotel element of the masterplan with a two-storey reduction and fattening of the footprint. There have been various other tweaks to the vast scheme, including the removal of green roofs from the arena and conference centre.
Public realm is also central to HOK’s approach here, the site at the landing point of WikinsonEyre’s Millennium Bridge, and between the Sage and Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, then connecting through to Gateshead College. Here, there is more heritage to preserve and reveal than in Cardiff, with the brick coal drops becoming intimate spaces of raised planting, lawns and informal gathering alongside a park stretching north from the Tyne.
HOK has worked to reduce the massing of the arena in this instance, with a varied palette of materials and landscaping to introduce a more human-scale to the building and its approach. It is still a large scheme, however, with seating for 12,500 alongside the 5,775m² exhibition centre and 327 bed hotel.