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ACME’s Chester Northgate overhaul revealed

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ACME’s proposal for Northgate Quarter in Chester deemed more deliverable within budget

These are the first images of ACME’s proposed, retail-led Northgate development in Chester city centre.

The scheme replaces a previous multimillion-pound proposal by architects Hopkins and Chapman Taylor for ING Real Estate Developers, which was ditched by Cheshire West and Chester Council in February after languishing on the drawing board for more than a decade.

The authority has instead decided to deliver the project itself. As well as shops, restaurants and cafés, the development includes a new multiscreen cinema, refurbished car parking for around 1,000 cars and it promises a ‘return to the former street pattern of the Northgate area’.

Friedrich Ludewig of ACME, which won a competitive pitch to land the commission last summer said: ‘[Our project]is a bit smaller than the pre-credit crunch scheme, and a lot more deliverable.

‘It is engrained in the city fabric, with proper relations to the buildings around it.’

The development will be constructed in two phases, with a new market hall built before the old one can be demolished.

Ludewig told the AJ that, although wanting to design ‘a building or two’ in both phases, there could be opportunities for other architects to work on individual blocks as the scheme progresses.

He said: ‘Chester is a place of great architectural tradition and we would like to create masterplan guidelines for each block – combining freedom in some areas with straitjackets in others, so that the future Northgate Quarter will [blend] a common character with individuality.’

ACME, set up in 2007 by former senior staff from Foreign Office Architects, is working with Davis Langdon, WSP and DTZ, as well
as the council’s in-house team on the project.

ACME's Chester proposals - internal view

Comment: Neil Deely

Shopping centres have been inserted into complex environments with greater or lesser degrees of success in recent years: Princesshay in Exeter and Cabot Circus Bristol, to name two. The former is a sensitive composition of streets, appropriately scaled buildings, truly mixed-use and multi-architect designed. Cabot Circus on the other hand is a multi-level, glass-roofed aircraft carrier of a building, with a service ship of a multistorey 2,500-space car park moored alongside.

Compared with Chapman Taylor/Hopkins’ previous scheme, this ACME incarnation has more streets, a finer grain and arguably creates a better setting for the Guildhall – so progress of sorts. But it is difficult to tell whether the project will succeed in breaking out of the strictures of retail mono-zone convention and become a fully fledged mixed-use development that measures up to the architectural richness and diversity of neighbouring Chester Rows.

The Rows, incidentally, feature in most retail design handbooks as a convenient historic precedent wheeled out to justify multi-level retail malls to planning committees. These galleried ‘streets’ are now a common feature of many modern retail proposals from Liverpool One to Stevenage and now Northgate, but they are rarely carried out with the aplomb and conviction as say in Nijmegen, Holland. So, the galleried retail environment appears to be coming home, but having learned little on its 600-year journey. If the present situation tells us anything about the future of retail, it is that if old formats are to be repeated, they need to do so in a way that is adaptable to change.

Neil Deely is director of Metropolitan Workshop and a member of CABE’s National Design Review Panel and the London Legacy Development Corporation Quality Review Panel




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Readers' comments (1)

  • The subject of good design in historic cities is due to be discussed in Chester on Thursday 21st March when Eric Parry will give the first lecture in the Cheshire Society of Architects series on the subject. For more detail and to register go to www.csaparry.eventbrite.co.uk

    Andy Foster

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