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ACME’s Southampton leisure complex hopes to draw the city to the waterfront

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The mixed-use Watermark WestQuay complex is the first step in a wider masterplan for Southampton

Originally proposed by Foreign Office Architects prior to its closure, Watermark WestQuay will be completed by ACME, which was founded by ex-FOA architect Friedrich Ludewig. The scheme contains a 10-screen multiplex cinema, bowling alley, 24 restaurants and cafés, and a new public plaza and esplanade. It constitutes ‘Phase 1’ of Watermark WestQuay, a proposed major redevelopment in Southampton that intends to better connect the town centre to the waterfront, both visually and physically by negotiating changes in level. 

Created for Hammerson, Watermark sits adjacent to its WestQuay Shopping Centre, drawing the development towards the sea. A soaring cantilevered box wrapped in a skin of curving silver tubes (referencing the former Pirelli factory on the site and also helping to break up the large form) projects out over a new square, signalling the development from the city as a new hub in which to gather.

052 acme wwq drawing01 location plan

Architect’s view

The WestQuay masterplan addresses Southampton’s historic role as a main thoroughfare for cruise ships and trade. During the course of the 20th century the shoreline has become distanced from the centre, moving progressively further away from the medieval town walls that historically marked the waterfront, due in part to a series of port facilities and industrial buildings. Taking a cue from the historic sloping connection from Bargate Street, the scheme introduces two sloping promenades, providing a smooth transition from the city centre and old town down to the new plaza at the heart of the scheme, and beyond to the waterfront.

The ‘upper promenade’ takes visitors gradually down from the level of the old town to a raised area of public realm connecting to both the plaza at the foot of the town walls and harbour parade to the west of the development. Restaurants lining the promenade are accessed from terraces which overlook the walls. The ‘lower promenade’ creates a route via a set of stairs from the old town level at Portland Terrace down to the plaza. Steps peel off from the promenade forming a natural terraced auditorium along the edge of the plaza and restaurants spill out on to terraces, creating a vibrant new public realm with the town walls as the focus. 

The new façade for the cinema has been designed as a continuous 14km-long band of 76mm-thick steel pipes. The pipes are designed with varying densities to open views from within where possible. The pipes form an outer skin for the cinema that gives an impression of weightlessness and movement, and allows for the integration of transparency and lighting to create a floating nighttime attraction visible from the city and the incoming cruise liners. The 10-screen cinema cantilevers out up to 26m to protect views from the walls by means of a series of double-height steel trusses located between screens and along the south facade, with concrete cores providing stability.

The sense of movement and strong horizontality of the cinema cladding continues in the plinth, which comprises the lower floors level with the town wall. In contrast to the lightness of the stainless steel pipes the plinth is predominantly clad in precast concrete, providing a solidity and warmth which speaks to the monumentality and historic stonework of the walls.  

052 acme wwq drawing18 cinema cantilever

Project data

Start on site January 2015
Expected completion December 2017

Gross internal floor area 24,800m²
Form of contract or procurement route Design and Build
Construction cost £75 million
Architect ACME
Client Hammerson
Structural engineer AKTII
M&E consultant Hoare Lea
Quantity surveyor Sweett Group (Now Currie & Brown)
Other specialist consultants Landscape: Grant Associates, Highways & environmental: Waterman, Lighting: George Sexton Associates, Fire: JGA, Cinema architect: AHR, Interior: MTDRC and Scott Brownrigg, Archaeology: MOLA, Wind: RWDI, Bridge engineer: David Dexter Associates, Planning: Barton Willmore, Planning/building control: Southampton City Council
Project manager 
CDM coordinator
 Brian Bulfin Associates
Approved building inspector Southampton City Council Building Control
Main contractor Sir Robert McAlpine
CAD software used REVIT

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