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Urban Splash finally reveals plans for Plymouth Civic Centre overhaul

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Developer Urban Splash has finally revealed its plans for how it intends to revamp Plymouth’s Civic Centre – three years after it bought the Grade II-listed post-war landmark

The scheme by Gillespie Yunnie Architects will see the 14-storey former council headquarters converted into 144 one- and two-bedroom flats with the lower blocks sitting above about 4,600m² of office, shops and leisure space.

The proposals, which went out to public consultation last week, will open up the ground floor, making it ‘an active public space filled with outside seating for cafés, bars and restaurants’ and reuse the existing landscaped pools while creating new connections through the scheme from the Theatre Royal and Civic Square.

The practice previously worked with Urban Splash on its transformation of the city’s Royal William Yard, which won the 2014 AJ Small Projects Sustainability Prize

The Devon-based practice landed the Civic Centre job in 2015 shortly after the progressive, design-savvy developer signed a deal with Plymouth City Council to buy the now-empty 1961 block for just £1. 

Designed by Hector JW Stirling, the 15-storey post-war building was handed a Grade II listing in 2007, effectively saving it from demolition by the local authority, which had earmarked the site for redevelopment. At the time, the listing caused controversy, with the council claiming it would threaten its ambitious city-centre masterplan. 

The council said it would cost around £30 million for it to restore the building and had therefore decided to move out and sell the property. 

The former Civic Centre sits at the southern end of the area which formed the focus of Patrick Abercrombie’s famous Plan for Plymouth, an ambitious plan to rebuild the centre after the devastating Second World War bombing of the city.

Urban Splash senior development manager Adam Willetts said the new plans had been developed in collaboration with Plymouth City Council, Historic England and The Twentieth Century Society.

He said: ‘We have worked with various organisations and professional bodies to ensure we stay true to the heritage of the Civic Centre, while respecting its listed status. It is an important building and deserves real consideration about how to knit it back into the city centre in the best possible way.

’We want to preserve the fabric of the building and, with a structure as iconic and historic as the Civic Centre, we must carefully consider all options before presenting our [final] designs and solutions to the public.’

The Twentieth Century Society said it ‘cautiously welcomed’ the proposal but warned that it had concerns about the ‘potential loss of the materiality, rhythm and dimensions of the original aggregate panels’ and about elements added below the raised link building.

Tess Pinto, senior conservation adviser with the society, said: ’We are pleased to see a scheme that seeks to bring new life to a landmark post-war building that has lain empty for a number of years, but we do have concerns about some of the proposals.

’[We] consider the spandrel panels and glazing pattern of the original building key elements that make the building distinctive in the skyline, with its textured solidity and prismatic set-backs giving depth and materiality to the large tower. 

‘In their current form, the proposals seek to greatly reduce the size of the concrete panels, which give the façades their distinctive texture.’

Plymouth civic undercroft scene gillespie

Plymouth civic undercroft scene gillespie

She added: ‘There are also plans to partly infill some of the raised undercroft of the link building, which connects the tower and podium to the council chamber next door. This area, raised on slim pilotis, which carry the podium over a landscaped pool, has an important relationship to Jellicoe’s Civic Square and this could be compromised.’

A planning application is expected later this summer. 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Given their success at the glorious Royal William Yard it's only to be expected that the same team would exercise the same care with this building, and it's a pity that there are no 'as existing' images to enable comparison of the elevations, in view of the 20th Century Society's criticism. However, image 1/6 suggests rather more 'depth and materiality' than does 4/6, and hopefully the overall character of the building will not be compromised.
    But if Plymouth City Council doesn't get its act together and rectify the widespread damage caused by its shameful long-term neglect of the maintenance of the extensive and heavily used paved pedestrian areas on this side of Armada Way it'll look even more like a failing local authority - or is this yet another symbol of 'austerity Britain'?

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