The most interesting aspect of this project is its fusion of urban design, architecture, landscape and engineering with an underlying archaeological presence.There is no conventional distinction between the disciplinary roles and design responsibilities, and this helps account for its 'richness'.
The success of the scheme lies with a client which has been willing to embrace this slightly unusual situation and organise itself with clarity in the decision-making process. It most certainly requires an architect comfortable in the abilities of the landscape architect to handle designs at both conceptual and detailed level. Robert Rummey Associates'work has included the conceptual design of the spaces (with MacCormac Jamieson Prichard) and detailing of all external walls, bridges, ramps, structures, and gates, as well as the more traditional paving and planting components.
The principal concepts can be summarised as follows: In its broadest sense, an uncovering and interpretation of the original Priory, displaying a lost history for the people of Coventry: the first 'pearl'on the necklace that is the Phoenix Initiative's series of new urban spaces.
The exposed remains (the nave) create the Priory Garden, with the north nave wall forming one side of the second space, the Priory Cloister. The new cloister space with its 3m-high red sandstone walls, grid of pleached lime trees and gravel surface, does not aim to replicate the original cloister, but to recreate an intimate, calm, contemplative space - a new kind of urban space, away from retail and commercial functions.
The cloister is conceived as a 'room'composed of a layering of walls and apertures, with the building inhabiting one side (the north nave wall); the 32 roof and tree canopy 'floats'over the whole room and creates a kind of dematerialised building.
Ultimately the north side of the cloister will be bounded by a 'threshold wall'- a 5m-high, guillotine-like intervention, through which access will be gained to the Priory Place development.
The level difference across the site (5.0m) has been exploited to create a dramatic series of movements and viewing opportunities across lightweight bridges and ramps. The 1:20 ramp system is a positive, integral part of the design - it works as a crossing, viewing gallery and space in its own right, as well as allowing disabled access to the building and directing the journey around the site.
Materials such as natural red sandstone, FSC hardwoods, stainless steel and in situ white concrete have been detailed to distinguish new from old.
The design required a number of detailed adjustments on site, as the full extent and nature of the archaeology was uncovered. We had to allow the scheme to evolve around the archaeology and try to balance this with maintaining the integrity of the original idea. In the near future, six glass 1.2m 2cubes will be positioned within the upper lawn area, identifying original column locations and containing artworks by artist Chris Browne.
With the architect, we believe that creating a rich and diverse series of urban spaces and social interactions is vital. Using simple design and detail with high-quality materials, this sets a benchmark for the remaining sections of the project.This part of the city becomes reconnected as a series of social, functional and historic layers.