Bedford Cultural Quarter, Bedford, Bedfordshire, UK- 2004
RIBA ideas competition for the redevelopment of Bedford Cultural Quarter.
Castle Lane, Bedford is composed of a disparate number of buildings and spatial types of limited quality. The zone has become a stagnant territory where significant features and spatial qualities have either been partially erased or made insignificant by a succession of opposing modes and patterns of occupation. The zone is almost impenetrable from the main areas of activity adjacent; characteristic narrow void spaces providing the only means of access from the High Street. The area's key programmatic assets, the Bedford Museum and Cecil Higgins Art Gallery are concealed when approached from the River Embankment, the most significant edge to the site with respect to its cultural and leisure potential.
Bedfordshire is historically renowned for lacemaking; Bedfordshire lace is a length lace, whereby the whole of the pattern and ground are made in one continuous process. We established this as a starting point for reinterpreting the site and surroundings, as a method of integrating the context of the site in its entirety.
We proposed a single 'unifying' process as opposed to the accrued number of additive elements, which have produced the current disharmony within the urban setting. Lace and lacemaking adopt an organisational principle of 'ground' and 'motif' whereby the ground may be observed as the background with a figure or motif to the foreground. Lace offers an appropriate analogy as a method of urban organisation as it integrates both elements in a continuous variation of pattern and scale.
We reinstated a 'ground' consisting of profiles of existing buildings (including those making characteristic alleyways into the site) and extended them across the site to create a spatial net.
It was important to acknowledge and enhance those qualities or potentials within the site. We referred to these elements as 'motifs' within the continuously varying 'ground', or built fabric.
The creation and extension of voids across the site creates alleyways and open spaces between fingers of programme. Those spaces unfold onto the cultural artefacts of the Museum Cluster and the Castle Mound.
To avoid a system of structural hierarchies the facade structure to the link building also forms the main vertical loadbearing structure. It was important to develop a structure which, as lace, varies its intensity but maintains a constant 'thread'. Structural members are therefore identical in size, but in continuous variation across the structural skin.
The facade is formed by a series of interlinked and inclined elements that are arranged so as to bridge across the link elements to the existing buildings and create higher density in the areas where the facade reaches the ground. Because of the relatively high density of the structure the sizes of the steel column elements are relatively light (visually and structurally). The elements support both the floors and the glazing and are laterally braced by the weave of the facade and by the floors to allow for a slender section in elevation. The overall lateral stability of the structure is provided by a combined system using the central access cores within the footprint of the building and the in plane stiffness of the facades.