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BRADFORD'S VISION DRAINS AWAY

AGENDA

When Will Alsop revealed his revised proposals for Bradford last week it all seemed just a little less ambitious than his original, jaw-dropping vision for the West Yorkshire city.

The large city-centre lake, which made all the headlines when it was unveiled as part of Alsop's Bradford masterplan three years ago, has become a pond - technically, a drainable 'mirror pool'.

A proposed 'digital centre', which was to stand on stilts over the pool and had been dubbed the Pier, is now firmly landbound.

So has Bradford Centre Regeneration (BCR), the organisation driving the city's transformation and the commissioner of Alsop's original masterplan, got cold feet and opted for a less adventurous approach?

Or is the reworked design a genuine and credible attempt to take the ambitious, scenesetting dream and make it both practical and financially viable?

It depends who you ask.

Some of the architects working in the city are not convinced by the latest efforts and feel the city's design aspirations are being diluted.

As the blurb said back in 2003, the Bowl - the ooded area around City Hall - was intended to become the 'foyer to the city' and the showpiece of the three new neighbourhood petals stemming from it.

Philip Veitch, of local practice Waller and Partners, wonders whether that ambition still holds true.

'The [latest] images of the scheme for the Bowl are generally disappointing and at the risk of a bad pun, the lake is now a watered-down version of Alsop's vision, ' he said.

'It's a token gesture to a unique part of the masterplan, which could have been the most successful part of the regeneration, simply because it would have been the part we could least tinker with.'

Others, such as David Rudlin of urban and economic development group URBED, have been less critical of the changes. Rudlin has been working with BCR in a design-review role and feels the alterations to the pool are welcome.

He said: 'There was an argument that it was far too big. When you look at the original lake, it was actually larger than Moscow's Red Square.

'If you are creating something that big in the middle of town, you want to be able to create something that is usable.'

In that respect, the new pool design will boast a plug, which can be pulled to allow the space to be emptied and turned into an event space.

Overlooking this water will be a new business district - a development of offices in a parkland forest.

Maud Marshall, chief executive of BCR, is keen to emphasise that the redesign shows they have listened to the people of Bradford and not ploughed on with the masterplan regardless.

She said: 'The Mirror Pool in a city park is ambitious? and is central to the wider plan to bring water back into Bradford.

'It marks careful consideration of the views of the people who live in and use the city and is a response to changing market conditions.'

She explained: 'When the masterplan was being prepared, there was little market demand for a new central business district and hence the opportunity to create a vast park in the city was seized.

The market has moved on since then and demand has increased.'

She added: 'The lake becomes the pool and the business forest becomes the central business district, but still within very high-quality public realm.'

Unsurprisingly, the debate about the changes to the Bowl has spilled into a discussion about how Bradford takes forward the rest of the masterplan - and whether the commitment to quality design will survive.

Adam Clark, founder of Shipley-based practice Halliday Clark, is in no doubt the 'vision' will alter from the 'futuristic' images unveiled at the start of the process. But that, he says, is not necessarily a bad thing. 'It is inevitable that any masterplan will be subject to change and refinement as a result of several factors.

'The key success that the masterplan has achieved is to establish the zones of development and to stimulate developers and landowners to obtain planning permissions.'

What he and many other architects fear is that Bradford will copy Leeds, developing a similar look to its neighbour's much-maligned cityscape.

Leeds-based architect Irena Bauman, of Bauman Lyons, has voiced her concern: 'What worries me is that Bradford is accepting poor development and is still taking the highest offer.

'There is a very strong case in Bradford, a city which has much further to climb than Leeds, for using high-quality design as a regeneration tool.

'Leeds can carry weak architecture. But Bradford needs to step up to the challenge.'

All eyes are now on the quality of the next wave of developments coming off the drawing boards, such as Carey Jones' Odeon scheme, Robinson Design Group's Channel development and Benoy's Westfield shopping centre.

Only time will tell if BCR manages to find a successful balance between schemes that are visionary but undeliverable and those which are commercially viable but unforgivably dull.

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