Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Tower Works Visit

Tower Works connects the Round Foundry area to the Leeds-Liverpool canal, and on to the station via Granary Wharf. I went to the official opening/tour of Phase 1, by Bauman Lyons Architects, where a number of the original buildings (including the towers) have been restored and a new public square opened by the canal. The offices are packed full of character, views of the canal and the shallow floor-plate means they are naturally lit and ventilated from both sides. The windows know to open themselves when the building feels too hot... spooky.  

The detailing is sublime throughout the site. The material palette of brick, timber, copper and glass helps link the old and new buildings, while providing a photogenic architectural detail around every corner. The site still has a very 'Phase 1' feeling about it - there are lots of temporary street lights, railings and asphalt that should be gone in a few years when the final phases of the development are completed. More info at and

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Dark Arches

A weekend of school choirs chanting dressed in black, art students morbidly ringing bells and a fair bit of 'interpretive dance' deep in the brick arches below Leeds train station. Whilst the theme eluded most people, the arches showed their potential for a permanent arts and music venue; something that seems to have been the dream of architecture students for years. I was pleased to see people enjoying the atmosphere, the sounds of the river, the architecture and its lighting. Perhaps when Leeds station's south entrance is finished, the tunnels will seem more accessible for events like this in the future:


A wander along the canal afterwards gave me a chance to experiment with HDR photography. I dislike 90% of HDR photos - they usually look childish, surreal and often detract from the subject matter. But! When they are subtle, they can really enhance the image. The fantastic Tower Works development by Bauman Lyons is a mixed use canalside scheme that restores the famous 3 ornate 'Italianesque' towers. What looks like the first phase, an office building, sits behind the larger 2 towers in this image (below) - and HDR here achieves exactly what it is supposed to: a 'high dynamic range' of colours. It means that the colours of bricks in the towers stand out without the sky becoming white-washed in the background. The cute timber-clad balcony of the office building is a great contrast to the tones of the surrounding brick, and HDR helps exaggerate this contrast. The second phase, a residential scheme, looks to be mainly clad in this material, so I will have to come back in a few years time to document the development when it's completed.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

'How's Leeds Arena doing?'

In short, it is progressing well. I was observing construction on Thursday/Friday from 20 floors up in Opal Tower, immediately East of the Arena site; and saw perhaps 30 - 40 workers on site looking very busy indeed. Groundwork looks to have been completed, and so the easy above-ground construction is underway. The cores have all more or less reached full height (workers were finishing the northernmost core this Saturday morning) and the first sections of permanent steelwork have been bolted together joining the south-western core, (which is located at the front right of the Arena once completed).

Pictures below (you can see the noticeable change in steelwork during the 24 hour period between Thursday and Friday): Click to enlarge:

On another note it was refreshing to see so much development in Leeds on my walk up the city to the arena site. On approaching Leeds the Bauman Lyons scheme at Tower Works is beginning to take shape, with what I presume is the first phase of brick clad office space located next to the largest, most ornate tower.

Leaving the train station, Leeds Trinity shopping centre is well underway - its domed roof visible from a number of places around Leeds, perhaps echoing the roof of Leeds' Corn Exchange (or perhaps just the roofs of Cabot Circus in Bristol and the New Riverside in Shrewsbury, all designed by the same architects). Just north of Leeds' desirable shopping area lies the student friendly Merrion Centre, which is undergoing a re-clad. I am a bit concerned that when the Arena opens the immediate landscape outside - its busy road, narrow pavements & Merrion Centre won't exactly be the most desirable place for 13,000+ visitors to wander about. Oh well.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Hepworth, Wakefield

David Chipperfield's new gallery space for Barbara Hepworth's sculpures (and other artists' work). Below, external view - not my photograph. The site is on the banks of the River Calder, and the gallery rises from the river like cliffs from the sea. The industrial aesthetic is quite apparent, the pitched roofs of warehouses populate the short walk from the train station to the gallery. The location therefore is excellent - unlike, for instance, the Royal Armouries in Leeds and The National Glass Centre in Sunderland, which are just about in the middle of nowhere hence the poor visitor numbers.

The facade was constructed from a number of identical concrete panels, and these panels were the smoothest concrete I've ever felt. Not that I've felt much smooth concrete, or know much about smooth concrete. Whenever I try and make concrete I always end up with a crumbly grey mess.

I was chatting to a gallery assistant who had written her dissertation on the design of the building who was so relieved that Chipperfield won the RIBA competition to design the gallery and not, for instance, Hadid. Each of the gallery spaces were designed to house a certain exhibit - some of Hepworth's sculptures are huge and require tall ceilings, natural light etc. Because the gallery mainly houses sculptures and not light-sensitive paintings, it meant that the design team could place windows much more freely than in a conventional gallery. These windows are located on the external edge of the facade, meaning that the reveals from the inside are deep, I'd guess 600-700mm. These are well placed to give specific views over the river, external exhibits and Wakefield cathedral.

I was not allowed to take photographs of the sculptures, but I was more interested in the light-wells above them anyway. The light detailing on every gallery space was similar - the roof light was only visible if you were right up against the wall. The angled roof and white walls meant that natural light flooded down onto Barbara's sculptures in the centre of the gallery. These light voids were opposite the window openings.

I noticed that these sky lights had blinds to control the sunlight, and also noticed a bit of archi-cheating - there were also artificial lights that boosted the amount of light that reflected down into the gallery. These weren't that obvious in June, but I'd imagine might become more clear in the winter months. I wasn't too impressed by the spotlights hanging from the ceiling but I'd imagine this is probably the best (and mot flexible) way to focus light on certain exhibits:

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Leeds Arena (Under Construction)

I had a quick look at the site of Leeds Arena earlier, which with its green honeycomb facade will be Leeds latest large piece of modern architecture in the city, due to be completed in two years time. This video shows a very directional piece of architecture - a vibrant, dynamic facade (based on a Voronoi diagram) facing west and its backside facing the motorway and the student accommodation behind (east).

The Facade:

At the moment the site is still being cleared, groundwork is starting so there is no real construction work to follow... but I did manage to take some photos of the facade cladding test, which looks interesting:

What struck me was the level of extrusion of the grey element here, which looks maybe 500mm further out than the rest of the cladding. The front of the Arena will look especially three-dimensional with all these different layers of cladding.

The insulation(?) looks clumsy here but it'll be hidden behind a damp proof layer, and neither will be particularly visible once the green triangular pieces are added in front. 

These green pieces remind me of Alsop's green triangles in Headingley - they are not solid pieces - they are punctuated to reduce weight/add interest etc.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Leeds' Victoria Quarter

A friend of a friend (of a friend...) is the manager of the Victoria Quarter, and in his office he let me and a few students take photographs of some of the original drawings for the shopping centre (calling it a shopping centre really degrades it!):

What we also found were drawers and drawers full of the architects initial drawings, planning applications for the development. These drawings are beautiful and should be displayed permanently in either the boutique shopping centre or somewhere else in Leeds. They are far too good to be tucked away in a filing cabinet underneath the plant room of Harvey Nichols...

Finally some photos of the Victorian-style arcades, probably the most attractive area in Leeds, and a much more enjoyable shopping experience than anywhere else in the city or anywhere else I can think of. Don't mention 'Las Vegas'

Imperial War Museum North

Libeskind's War Museum is strangely compelling. I was thrown off-guard as soon as I entered because all the lights turned off and the huge interior white walls were covered in projections, in videos of recollections/documentaries of past conflicts. These presentations are presumably meant to be as instantaneous as an air raid siren, where visitors rush for a good seat (bomb shelter) before the videos (bombs) start.

The jagged geometry is meant to convey the chaos, the destruction of war, an architectural message that is hard to argue with. I was speaking to one of the staff and Libeskind originally designed the building to be a lot larger, a lot more jagged, and to be clad in concrete - perhaps to present visitors with a bomb-shelter aesthetic. Budget constraints meant the building is now clad in zinc, which I think will be more future-proof than a concrete structure of the same geometry. The zinc in the picture above almost looks like armour, protecting the museum.

A small entrance fee and I found myself at the top of the building, a viewing gallery looking directly at the BBC's new HQ in Salford, across the river/canal... which may or may not be idyllic enough to force Londoners to leave their jobs at BBC London for a new job at BBC Manchester. This building is very keen to show off its cross-bracing, but the other offices on the site looked very disappointing, dull, grey... not at all suited to one of the most cloudy cities in the UK, and hardly vibrant enough to force people to switch jobs, move families etc to Manchester.