Developing a new vernacular for the city of Gloucester
For those involved in the regeneration of the Cathedral city of Gloucester there are few, if any who would deny that the city is “on the up”. Economic indicators show that this is a city that is growing at a region beating pace. As a city, Gloucester finally seems to have its ducks in a row regarding the pieces of regeneration that need to be undertaken to complete the incredible transformation that we can see significantly completed at the Quays and Docks. Money has been committed to the development of Blackfriars Quarter, Barbican and Quayside with a start date scheduled for the first ground clearance and the former Prison is ready to be developed. Money has been committed, assets purchased and architects appointed for the bus station in Kings Quarter. Development of an iconic multi-use venue located at Southgate moorings has been muted and if realised would fill the much maligned “missing link” between Gate streets and the redeveloped Quays.
All of these are exciting projects behind which there is a head of steam, but maybe now – before we start sending in the excavators – is the time that we should pause and examine exactly what we want to see at these locations and what the city needs in order to fulfil the needs and aspirations of the current population and to overcome the barriers to growth for Gloucester becoming a “complete” city.
Although there can be much debate as to what type of development should be where – residential, hotels, leisure, cultural facilities and so-on the purpose of this article is not to consider the type of development but to discuss whether before we run headlong at our new regeneration projects we should not first try and establish how we want these to look.
Gloucester has been presented with a once in a life time opportunity to define the look and feel of the city. The major redevelopments will be positioned at points in the city where they will make a statement. The question we must ask ourselves is what do we want that statement to be?
My view is that it is now that we should be looking to develop guidelines for a new vernacular architecture for Gloucester – and one that directly speaks to the heart of the residents of the city and will continue to build on what makes this city unique. For too long major developments have been imposed on the city in a watered down homogenous form that at best pays lip service to place.
In developing this new vernacular architecture we need to answer two questions – what are we hoping to achieve by this and what will be its influences and points of reference.
By developing a new vernacular, planners, influencers and visionaries in Gloucester have a chance to help define what Gloucester is both to its citizens and to the wider world. By promoting this new vernacular in iconic keystone developments there is an opportunity to develop the sense of place and civic pride that is needed by every thriving city which aims to grow.
So what should the new vernacular reference? In many cities and towns this might seem a difficult question and possibly even in Gloucester where over the 2000 years of history there have been a wide range of architectural influences and materials. These include buildings constructed from the remains of the Roman and later Anglo-Saxon fortifications, fine timber framed buildings such as The New Inn and 26 Westgate, Regency, and red brick within the industrial dock areas and Victorian and Edwardian suburbs.
Yet alongside of all of these – none of which is peculiarly home grown – in Gloucester there is a piece of architecture that already is defined by and defines the city. This piece of architecture was created by local craftsmen using local materials and using locally developed new forms and techniques which were years ahead of their contemporaries. It is a building that has influenced many other significant buildings in the city’s history and worldwide. This building is the beautiful, iconic Abbey of St Peters otherwise known as Gloucester Cathedral.
This is the building that I believe should be the touchstone for developing the new vernacular for Gloucester. Without being recidivist we should be looking to develop an architectural pallet of materials and design themes that will enable visitors and locals alike to identify the new developments as being uniquely Gloucester. There are three, possibly four influences that I believe any architect seeking to produce civic architecture that truly references Gloucester should refer to. These are as follows.
- Perpendicular Gothic
- Large glass windows subdivided geometrically
- Fan Vaulting
Imagine developments such as the new bus station, Kings Quarter and a beautiful iconic multi-use cultural center on Southgate moorings which whilst refraining from cliché nevertheless reference and reinterpret the soaring and elegant perpendicular gothic arch, large glass windows divided geometrically and reflecting and empahasising colour and utilised the warm cotswold colours the people of Gloucester identify with the building which defines the city. This is the opportunity.
The politicians and planners of Gloucester have the chance now to demonstrate a genuine vision for the city of Gloucester, one that is not a watered down, pastiched version of internationalist modernism but one born of Gloucester and one that will make the people of Gloucester prouder still of their home city. Any architect involved in this project should try to get under the skin of the identity of the city and its citizens and aim to present architectural that will truly inspire the next generations, following the spirit of those who design the Cathedral and aiming to design something that is not just of 2015 but buildings that will not date but will have a timeless quality and still have relevance in 100 or 200 years.