Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : The People Under The Hard Hats

Wring Group site manager Steve surveys the scene on the last day of demolition work on the former Swindon College Regent Circus site.

Planners, designers, architects, consultants, councillors, engineers and more. The list of people who are involved in urban regeneration can easily stretch to Christmas-list proportions.

But what about the contractors themselves? They're the people who go onto cold, windswept sites at all hours, on the front-line for criticism from anyone, site neighbours, motorists, passersby, it's a job few people would envy.

The one person who's been responsible for the old Swindon College demolition from beginning to today's end is Site Manager Steve from Wring Group. On the nearly thirty site visits fellow photographer Ed Howell and I have made, from the security of the site to the careful asbestos removal, to the weather hampering the work to equipment problems, we've seen a hell of a lot.

Just a few days after major demolitions works began in May, the view from Edmund Street.

So in the long story of Swindon's town centre regeneration, those people like Steve should be recognised for their dedication and professionalism.

Swindon's Regeneration : Thank You & Good Night

The final job on the demolition works at the old Swindon College site in Regents Circus

The very last part of demolition works at the old Swindon College site this lunchtime, with crushing of a small area of tarmac from the car park.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : Past and Future Icons

The former Swindon College is gone, but are there other 60s and 70s building that changing tastes and attitudes to architecture will make us save in the regeneration?

Swindon's built environment is a jumble of building periods, styles, quality and uses.

The question that we will have to think about in the next few years is, which buildings we might not initially want to save, will changing attitudes to style and taste make us reconsider?

If you suggested demolishing Swindon's Railway Village now, you'd meet huge resistance from many areas of society, but if you'd suggested it in the 1950s, chances are a different set of arguments in favour could have beaten early attempts at 'heritage' and 'preservation'.

Will Swindon have to save some of it's large collection of sixties and seventies buildings in the near future when regeneration goes up a gear?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Autumn As It Should Be

Some archive pictures from Lydiard Park showing what autumn is all about when we get past these few days of wall-to-wall grey.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : Demolition Done

The hulking 1960s block of the old Swindon College was still with us in July.

This week marks a significant stage in one of Swindon's regeneration projects. All the demolition work on the old Swindon College site at Regent Circus should be finished by the end of this week.

Considering how long it's taken for work to start, when it did, it's taken hardly any time.

The Vincents restaurant, which will be the site of the Morrisons supermarket in just over a year.

Located above Vincents restaurant was the auditorium with it's stage and dressing rooms, this the female dressing room with a script left on the counter.

A demolition few people believed would happen until they saw it with their own eyes. The roof being ripped off the main tower.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Roundabout Quick-Win for Swindon Landmark

A landmark good-enough for Forward Swindon to use it to market the town, then we need to make it look like the landmark it is.

Ask any Swindon taxi driver what local landmark they most often are asked to take passengers to and it'll usually be the Magic Roundabout.

The stunning effort by York on their Holgate Mill roundabout justifiably deserves the Best in Britain award from the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society. But can Swindon do better?

At the moment the Magic Roundabout is, in one word : grey.

Reflecting our motoring heritage and present, the roundabouts could feature different vehicles previously and currently built in Swindon, along with more greenery, lighting, and maybe some digital displays.

This cinderella landmark needs to reflect what it is, a gateway to the town, we need to put a proud stamp on it that says, 'welcome to Swindon'.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Metroland Effect on Swindon's Housing?

How much extra monetary value would you put on making your commute shorter?

If your journey to and from work could be reduced by 5 or 10 minutes, how much value would you put on that?

That's an extra 10 minutes eating breakfast, or an extra 10 minutes talking face-to-face to your family, or an extra 10 minutes asleep!

The value placed on the time saved through the reduced journey times between London and Bristol with the Great Western Main Line upgrade is expected to be millions added to the collective value of houses in the city.

A cut of 20 minutes on the journey time will save commuters more time and increase the attractiveness of Bristol and in the same upgrade, Swindon should come down to the 45 minute journey time mark (this is a modest estimation based on the speed and length of the route, under 45 minutes would be possible with a recasting of the timetable).

You could leave a workplace in London, travel to Swindon and be in your home within the hour, what an opportunity!

Notes : Metroland was the name given to the areas of the expanded Metropolitan Railway north west of London which was heavily tied and influenced by housebuilding and essentially created the modern definition of commuting.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Long-Distance Consumers for Swindon Outlet's Expansion?

The Long Shop which we soon be the new extension to the Swindon Outlet Centre, will it's stores be buzzing with international shoppers?
Swindon's Outlet Centre in the former GWR Rail Works workshops at Churchward, has since opening in 1997 become a vital part of retailing in the town.

The 50,000 square feet extension of the Outlet Centre into the empty Long Shop building next door (click here for pictures behind the doors of the Long Shop, that's frozen in time from 1986) will see £35 million invested, not just in the expansion, but also revamping the current centre.

With more visitors coming from overseas to buy highly-prized UK brands like Burberry and Paul Smith  at designer outlets, the Swindon Outlet Centre is well placed to reap huge rewards from foreign shoppers.

Plus as Swindon looks to attract businesses from the newly-dominate economies of China, India, Brazil and the rest, the retail offer we have will have to World-class too.

Swindon's Regeneration a Chance for Great Architecture & Design

Will Swindon's town centre regeneration lead to a new crop of landmark, award-winning buildings?
The Railway Village... Lydiard House... The Renault Building...The Motorola Building

All examples of important, nationally-recognised and in some cases, award-winning architecture, right in Swindon.

But in the last few years Swindon's perchance for landmark buildings has slowed somewhat.

With the town centre regeneration and the Swindon Masterplan, the will to push for new architecture and ideas in urban design is ready and waiting. Swindon could take a few risks in new designs and maybe see some more awards for it's built environment.

Swindon might not end up with dozens more landmark buildings, but the chance for high quality in urban design from the masterplan is a tantalising opportunity.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : Even The Queen Was Invited

Regeneration is inextricably linked to the past. If we ignore history we are doomed to repeat it, so goes the saying.

In a feature for Swindonweb (for the original piece, click here), I took a look back at the masterplan for Theatre Square...

The artist's impression of the view from Princes Street of the unbuilt Civic Hall. Copyright Swindon Collection.

You have to go all the way back to a rainy day in 1971 to pick apart the story of Swindon’s last major regeneration project in the town centre.

The confidence of the new plan for the Civic Centre development was so that the main phase to be completed, the Wyvern Theatre, was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip on 5th November 1971.In driving rain, the ceremony was conducted with the dignitaries sheltering under the pavilion in Theatre Square. If ever a symbol for the difficulties of a major regeneration project is needed, a downpour on opening day (Guy Fawkes Night indeed!) fits quite well. 

The scale model of the intended development, which included a new Central Library, which was eventually built. Copyright Swindon Collection.

The Civic Centre project first arrived in the vision of Swindon’s planners in 1965, with architects Casson, Condor and Partners being asked by the local authority to produce a detailed brief for the works. They presented a document and a proposed development that was very much in the thinking of the sixties, strict segregation of traffic and pedestrians, overwhelming use of reinforced concrete and steel to create large spaces and a multi-storey carpark. 

The project aimed to create a hub of all the council-provided facilities in one area. The location was key, between the Town Hall to the south, the main shopping district, Regent Street to the west and a new dual carriageway to the east (Princes Street) forming the main transport route as part of a new ring road.

The space that was to be occupied by the new Civic Hall was left vacant and still exists as the Wyvern Car Park. Copyright Swindon Collection.
The original plan called for a theatre (originally designated an arts centre), library, post office, shopping arcade and civic hall. The access to all these was by large pedestrianised spaces and links east towards Spring Gardens and west to Regent Street with walkways raised above the traffic and streets below.
Theatre Square was completed, with shops and cafes on the ground floor, and offices above. Unless you were around to see the building works, you might not know a network of underground corridors and sub-basements exists beneath Theatre Square. These act as emergency exits and most importantly link to a loading dock underneath the main doors of the Wyvern Theatre for deliveries by road.

The pride on display with the opening of the theatre could also be interpreted as relief, as for several years up to 1971, Swindon was without a professional theatre.The previous facility large enough to accommodate full-scale productions was the Empire Theatre on the corner of Groundwell Road and Clarence Street, now where La Dolce Vita restaurant is.The confidence of the grand opening was to be undermined in the following years as the plan for the Civic Hall was dropped as the money ran out. 

By the mid 1970s, attention on regeneration had moved to the Brunel shopping Centre, with its railway station-inspired architecture of vaulted trainshed roofs and brushed steel supports.The Civic Hall would have been on the land now occupied by the Princes Street carpark. On the same level as the Wyvern Theatre, the building would have contained two halls, the larger with a capacity of up to 2000 people and smaller for a maximum of 300. Both spaces would have been fully-serviced, with bars, kitchens, cloakrooms and offices, depending on whether a wedding reception, orchestra performance, or conference was taking place. The larger hall was specifically designed for the accommodation of an orchestra, but was adaptable, with a dancefloor able to be laid down if Swindon decided to put it's dancing shoes on! 

The Theatre Square and Wyvern Theatre were completed as expected in the initial plan. The Wyvern carpark would have extended across Regent Close and into Regent Place, with the elevated walkway carrying on to Regent Street. 

Swindon came tantalisingly close to a full regeneration project being designed, commissioned, constructed and completed, but that one piece of the jigsaw, the Civic Hall, was not to be. The library did still happen, but we had to wait until 2008 to browse its shelves.

Time to get it right....

With the demolition of the former Swindon College, groundworks on the massive Union Square project and contracts signed for the Oasis Leisure Centre rebuild and expansion, Swindon has a platter of regeneration to get its teeth into over the next decade.

Only time, the uncomfortable bedfellow of regeneration, will tell if they are finished with all the pieces we hope for - and these two boys below, perhaps, who sat and watched the demolition of the former College building this week, can look back and finally say....

"It took a while.... but they got it right."

To see more images from the Central Library's fascinating photo collection, visit the Swindon Collection's Flickr here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The New Look For Retail... In Swindon?

Consumers are remaining cautious when it comes to shopping and for the retail giants innovation and marketing has become more important than ever. We've seen the growth of 'click and collect' at lots of retailers, but will a combination of the comforts of online shopping at the personal touch of great customer service drive the creation of a new type of store? That's what Marks & Spencer's thinking is.

Could new or redeveloped stores in the middle of Swindon be built around these principles?

While trialling new ideas in retail, could it drive regeneration too?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : The Empty College And The Lost Artist of Swindon College

Here's the booty I salvaged from a small empty office in the old Swindon College demolition back in May. Previously hanging on the wall, it was propped up behind the door against the wall, either from falling off, or maybe someone else had spotted it and was preparing to take it to another home?  

My question is, who painted it and who was it who liked it enough to have it framed and displayed on the wall?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : The Lost Treasures of Swindon

The science, mathematics and technology-themed artwork.

Sitting quietly amongst the wreckage of the old Swindon College, unnoticed, undamaged, were a few pieces of treasure. 

As briefly blogged about back in May, the stairwells of the main building had a piece of artwork on each half-landing. I don't know how long they'd been there, but I remember passing them on the stairs in 1999.

The music-based artwork can just be seen at the top of the stairs.
Sitting on pieces of plyboard, around 5 feet in height, the majority were in the main stairwell of the main block. A large landscape of Swindon was especially striking, with another being a collage of mathematic equations, chemistry symbols and scientific drawings.

Another was music-based, with musical notes on sheet music and portraits.

Does anyone remember the artwork?

I had intended to try and save them and possibly find a home for the pieces, but they were taken down in the stripping-out of the college.

However, all was not lost.

One piece, an abstract work created by a student was deemed good enough for a staff member to have it on the wall in an office on the 3rd floor. While on a site visit, I carefully carried it across the glass walkway between the main block and tower and edged down the crumbling stairs, passed the pieces that were not to be saved. In a large clip-frame, I carried it through town and took it home. 

It sits safe and saved. An often-asked question is, what would you save in a fire? What single, or handful of items would you drag out to safety. 

Maybe the question for some should be, what will you save from the regeneration? On demolition and construction sites workers often have the pick of items left behind or the few highlights poking from a skip due to go nowhere but landfill. 

The landscape artwork.

So amongst the faceless and everyday pieces of administration stuck behind empty filing cabinets and yellowing memos pined to noticeboards, the kings of these forgotten artefacts hung proudly on the walls, giving flashes of colour, creativity and the legacy of the college that will long outlive these pieces we lost in the rubble.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : Culture With Confidence

The Kentwood Show Choir in rehearsals at the Wyvern Theatre in May this year.

One of the 'shop window' areas covered in the draft Swindon Masterplan is culture. How does a town not popularly known for it's culture get that message out?

The answer is simple, put as much of it on display as possible and make sure everyone sees it.

Art Gallery : Section 4.2 (pages 56 and 57) makes the case for a new art gallery in the centre of town, to house the modern art collection, raising the profile of the collection, transforming the town centre through a big cultural anchor. It suggests exploring of possible sites, fundraising and getting it done quickly to win local support and involvement in art.

Theatre : The same section recommends the redevelopment of the Wyvern Theatre as a new performing arts centre, with a bigger capacity of 1,200 seat theatre/concert hall. It would also be the home of Swindon Dance.

Science and Engineering Museum : Investigate a Science and Engineering Museum to be in the town centre, in association with the Science Museum and the items they have in storage at Wroughton airfield. This would be heavily influenced by Swindon's own links to engineering achievements.

I'd also say a Science and Engineering Museum would be even more effective if it has a strong link to manufacturers (Honda and BMW), so that it's a living museum showcasing new items, ensuring that it is not simply covering a fixed period in history.

Let's get all our good stuff out of the loft and put it on display!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : Frozen In Time

You know a place is special when it gives off an atmosphere, a feeling that you can't quite put your finger on. These combine to convey the importance, effectiveness and the weight of a place.

With the crane still and the clock frozen at 11 minutes past 5.

 I had that feeling the instant I stepped into the Long Shop, the last remaining building on the old rail works site in Swindon without a use. The air had a thick smell of engine oil, no doubt the smell has seeped into the structure since it's opening in 1847. The thick walls and floor gave the place that cathedral-like peacefulness, there was no sound of traffic, or of passersby. A couple of times a train ran past and the calm was briefly interrupted.

The sunlight was streaming through the south-facing windows, giving a regular pattern on the dust-covered floor. The Long Shop originally closed for business in 1986 and is frozen in time. Stopped clocks are complimented by the locker-rooms which still have rail workers names on them.

26 years since Davies and Jones used these lockers in the former British Rail Long Shop

The owners of the Long Shop and the majority of the former Works site are Henderson Global Investors (who own the management company for the Outlet, McArthurGlen) and at the end of the month their plans for a £35 million extension of the centre into the Long Shop will be decided.

After so long, this place that hangs heavy with the memories of the past, will be visited by millions of people into the future.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : The Plan We've Been Waiting For

At it's core, regeneration is one person building something new out of nothing. A lone contractor at Swindon's Union Square.
One of the criticisms of Swindon's development has been it's lack of joined-up-thinking, this applies very much to our town centre. With the publication of the Swindon Masterplan Draft, a document is finally worthy of consideration for fixing that problem.

At 203 pages, it covers a vast number of areas, with detailed plans for each.

On first glance, it seems to do two things of immense importance that have historically been seen as only repelling each other. It recognises the historic details of areas (continuing streets on that have previously been obliterated) and how best buildings can be located or adapted for future focus and relevance (the recladding of the Signal Point building is a realistic prospect, unless money becomes forthcoming to replace one landmark with another that's of greater aesthetic value).

I'll look at the masterplan in greater detail soon. But the public exhibitions for the consultation on it (everyone's feedback will shape how the finalised masterplan turns out) start on Tuesday at the Central Library, details here.

Swindon's Regeneration : Cluttered By Space

An Artist's impression of Fleming Way after the Union Square development. With a vast increase in the amount of usable public space, The Parade underpass has gone with a wide 'shared space' crossing in it's place.

Urban regeneration is not just about what you build, but the space you create. In many ways, the space a building gives outside it's walls is more important than the space it has for use within.

The majority of Swindon's streets and it's retail core is strictly stuck in the 1970s pedestrianisation era in regard to it's use of space. Regent Street, Bridge Street and Canal Walk were made into spaces for people to walk safely in whilst shopping than dodging cars, vans and buses. The majority of UK towns and cities have main shopping centres based on this principle, but a policy of gradual improvement stopped for Swindon in the mid nineties and has only recently restarted.

Pedestrianisation is the simple principle of allowing people walking to take priority over all other transport methods. But like motor vehicles, routes need to be correctly paved, uncluttered, of the correct capacity and with street furniture and building design that allows a degree of wayfinding.

If you take a simple journey from The Parade to the bus station you can witness the historic stagnation of our public realm. The wide space of The Parade outside Debenhams allows people to spread out, but then you are funnelled into the subway beneath Fleming Way, whilst dodging people coming down the slopes from above and the shops either side of the subway entrance. From being in a space that was 40 feet wide, to a low subway, with barely 10 feet of width within just a few steps. Reaching the other side of the subway, the steep approach ramp is not wide enough, the funnelling effect in evidence, with pedestrians dodging those coming the opposite way and from the two slopes and steps from Fleming Way. The wayfinding is not in evidence for the bus station, there's little to intuitively give the feel a bus station is behind one of the Zurich TriCentre buildings. Taking the most direct route, at the back of Carfax Close, the path is narrow and obstructing the view are the pillars of the TriCentre, the route is then squeezed between the TriCentre and the bus station, until the walkway opens out into the narrow space of the bus station which has no waiting space for passengers. No visual warning is given that the bus station is immediately around the corner, the build quality, with no glass, windows or breaks in the dark coloured brick structure gives any cue. As a result of all these pedestrianisation issues, this short journey is aggressive, uncomfortable and unforgiving for the pedestrian.

The basic part of this journey, across Fleming Way, will be radically altered with the regrading of the road, putting the entire street on the same level, with pedestrians walking across the road in a far wider space. With the Union Square development, the improvement in the quality of the spaces around new and existing buildings is a main part of the design.

Good design can make the pedestrian experience in Swindon so much better.

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Quiet Moment

Taken today, a quiet moment at the end of the working week for me is summed up in this picture. Peaceful and relaxed, lovely!

Swindon's Regeneration : The Last Leg

Things from above.
The Swindon Railway Station Forecourt project has been dogged by obstacles, weather, utility companies and the need to keep the area open 24 hours a day without disrupting the operations of the station.

But in a short while, it'll all be done and looking down from above last week, the greenery is making a big impact. Once the paving is finished, a vast pedestrianised space will greet passengers, with seats, trees and what's called 'wayfinding' in evidence through the arrangement of the street furniture. Even if people don't notice the new map and sign in front of the main doors, the paving, arrangement of the trees and crossing will help to direct people towards the bus station and town centre.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : If You Crane Your Neck

You can't always see what's going on behind a worksite's hoarding, but when that beacon of regeneration arrives, the crane, everyone for miles knows somethings going on. It's already got company, a second one is now on the Union Square Phase 1 site.

Looking good against the blue sky.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : Now and Soon

We're nearly at the end of the demolition phase at Regent Circus, making now a good time to show what will be occupying the space soon. Developer Ashfield Land has produced an online brochure, with a detailed floor plan for the new development, click this link and scroll to the bottom of the page to download the plan. 

Here's some of the artist's impressions, with best matches from the pictures I've been taking, helping to give a visual reference point for each image.

This picture is slightly too far to the left, with the matching point for this view across Regent Circus being at the crossing point in the lower right of the photograph.
An artist's impression of the Regent Circus development, viewed from the crossing at the corner next to the Central Library.
The crossing points and roadways become what's called 'shared space' where roads and paths are not distinctly defined, heightening drivers and pedestrians attention. The building will only be around half the height of the tall college tower.

Taken from Western Street, looking down towards the corner of Rolleston and Edmund Streets.

The same viewpoint, showing the tallest block as the cinema, with the spiral allowing access between floors on the  450 space car park.

The road layout remains the same, with an entrance to the multi-storey car park and pedestrian entrance to the main development at the corner of Rolleston and Edmund Streets.

On the corner of Rolleston and Edmund Streets.

On the corner, at 45 degrees to the above photograph, the corner of the Cineworld building should be in line with the nearest wall of the single-storey workshops. One of three entrances to the car park will be on this corner, along with one of the main pedestrian entrances.

Immediately behind the white gates, looking directly towards Regent Circus.

Along the same line, the main pedestrian street of restaurants will link the back of Edmund Street and the main pedestrian and meeting place on the edge of Regent Circus, seen in the distance where the round tower is.

I hope this gives you a better idea of what the finished Regent Circus development will look like.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : Welcome to Union Square

The Phase 1 area of Union Square on the former Police Station site between Princes Street,  Gordon Road and Fleming Way. An 850 space multi-storey car park, 45 sheltered housing units, space for the new NHS walk-in centre and offices are currently being built.
Sometimes a regeneration is so big, there's only one way to see it from, above. So, yes, you've guessed it, another rooftop!

This time, the roof of the Jurys Inn on the corner of Fleming Way and Princes Street gives a perfect spot to watch the changing face of Swindon with the Union Square project. 

The first phase of works on Union Square is completed, the new Whalebridge junction.

On the vast empty plots of land around Princes Street, Fleming Way, Corporation Street and Manchester Road the project will provide 650,000 square feet of office space, room for a new NHS Walk-In Centre, a 100-bed hotel, 150,000 square feet of retail, cafe and restaurant space, 450 residential units, an 850 space multi-storey car park, a new bus station, lowering of Fleming Way, a new public square, new road junctions at Whalebridge and Gordon Road, and new public spaces.

Piling work has started on the Union Square Phase 1 area.
The work on Union Square is phased over 10 to 15 years, a scheme of this type has never been seen in Swindon before. It will entirely change the town centre, there's no doubt about that. The first phase is well underway on the land of the former Police Station between Gordon Road, Fleming Way and Princes Street. The car park, sheltered housing units, and offices are currently being built (space will be provided for the NHS Walk-In Centre on the Phase 1 site).

The land in the middle-ground, the open car park, walk-in centre and fenced space will be Union Square Phases 3 and 6.
The Union Square project will stretch all the way along Corporation Street to the junction of Manchester Road and then along to the present bus station at New Bridge Square. The current bus station and multi-storey carpark, along with the vacant land will be brought back into use for houses, offices, shops and public spaces. One interesting touch in the design is the resurrection of several former street and road lines that were lost when the land was previously developed. The line of Broad Street and Carfax Street is retained and the line of Gordon Road will continue across Fleming Way. Because the majority of Union Square is based around a pedestrianised centre space, making the new development inviting for people as a thoroughfare is central to the design of it's layout.

An artist's impression of the Union Square project, looking immediately north of Fleming Way. The Zurich Tri Centre is the white building, with the buildings in the right foreground occupying the site of the former Post Office. These buildings are Phase 2, with the buildings across the new public square Phases 4 and 5.
What are currently empty, unwelcoming spaces in the very centre of Swindon will be brought back into use where people will live, work and relax.

For Union Square and Swindon, it's just the beginning.