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AJ exclusive: Purcell wins contest for new visitor centre at Bristol landmark

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Purcell has seen off Carmody Groarke and Eric Parry to win the competition to design a £12-15 million visitor and community centre next to Bristol’s Grade I-listed St Mary Redcliffe church

The Bristol office of the AJ100 practice also beat dRMM and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios to land the project aimed at making the city’s famous Gothic landmark ’truly outward-facing’.

The firm’s victorious proposal, which features new facilities on three sites around the church, was described as ’crisp, integrated and compelling’.

Organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC), the contest attracted more than 50 submissions, with 20 per cent of entries coming from overseas.

Shortlist in full

  • Carmody Groarke
  • dRMM
  • Eric Parry Architects
  • Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
  • Purcell

The reverend Dan Tyndall, the vicar of St Mary Redcliffe, said: ’The jury was very impressed by the finalists’ presentations, their enthusiasm and good ideas, but ultimately, Purcell demonstrated the deepest understanding of the site and context and the opportunity at St Mary Redcliffe.

’Purcell demonstrated the deepest understanding of the site and context’

’We found their scheme to be crisp, integrated and compelling. A particular strength was the dispersal of accommodation across three locations, helping to tie the disparate northern and southern parts of Redcliffe together.

David Hamilton, Director of Projects for competition organisers, Malcolm Reading Consultants, said: ’We were all impressed by the quality of work that each shortlisted finalist presented to the Jury. But Purcell demonstrated that they were the best team to guide the church through the development of the design and delivery of the project.’

’Our project represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair the fault lines in Redcliffe’s urban fabric’

Dan Talkes, senior architect at Purcell said: ’For the church, this project represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair the fault lines that exist in Redcliffe’s urban fabric and, in doing so, to position the church at the physical, spiritual and social heart of the city.

’Our proposal, generated from a ‘stitch’ of interconnected buildings, re-establishes the church’s medieval enclosure and creates a new, permeable edge to the church grounds that will improve public access.’

The competition jury includes journalist, broadcaster and author Simon Jenkins, and Bristol-based contemporary artist Luke Jerram, who was responsible for the Park and Slide installation, which turned Bristol’s Park Street into a giant water slide.



Photograph by Emily Whitfield-WicksSt Mary Redcliffe, Redcliffe, Bristol. A night time view from Prince street bridge with Redcliffe Wharf to the right, river Avon.

About St Mary Redcliffe

  • Grade I-listed and the architectural equivalent of many European cathedrals, St Mary’s is one of the largest parish churches in England and notable for its connection with many important historical figures, including Handel and Coleridge.
  • The church has links with America through artefacts relating to John Cabot’s voyage of 1497 and Admiral Penn; the latter, the namesake of Pennsylvania, is buried within the church.
  • Elizabeth I described the building, which is still the tallest in Bristol, as ‘the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England’.
  • St Mary Redcliffe attracts tens of thousands of visitors and tourists annually. Built, and then rebuilt, over a 300-year period from the early 13th century to the 15th century, the church has always lacked sufficient community and support spaces for its vital work in one of the most deprived wards in the country.
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