City of Culture 2017 – Hull celebrates with new Public Realm

17th July 2017

Foundations for the City of Culture 2017 has given Hull a once in a generation opportunity to transform the City Centre and its public realm and by the looks of things this certainly has been achieved!  The regenerated public realm flows through the city starting from the Paragon Interchange down through some of the most important areas of the city, finishing in the historic marina area.  The City’s social and commercial territory has given Hull the greatest makeover seen in many years and made it a place that can compete with other cities around the country.

The brief
The transformation of Hull City Centre gave an opportunity to change how people and businesses use the city and this was represented by a huge investment by Hull City Council. It included fourteen streets and four public squares connecting the train station in the west to the old town and docks in the east. The project had to transform people’s perceptions by creating a high quality, attractive and inviting place that the city could be proud of. There was a need to create public spaces where people wanted to be and which attracted businesses. Importantly, the public spaces needed to belong in Hull, celebrate the city’s architecture and respond to its unique cultural offer.

The streets and spaces needed to withstand the rigour of the normal city centre activities such as vehicle servicing, maintenance and occasional events, particularly in the four public spaces.

Earlier in January this year, a giant rotor blade was unveiled in Hull’s Queen Victoria Square as the first in a programme of temporary artwork installations to celebrate this year’s UK City of Culture. At 75 metres long, 3.5m in diameter at the root and weighing 25 tonnes, Blade was the largest, handmade fibreglass component cast as a single element in the world. Over the course of 2017, hundreds of blades will be made at the new Siemens factory in Hull for North Sea wind farms as part of a “green energy” strategy to generate more jobs in the area.

Materials used
20,000m2 of Magma granite was chosen as the predominant material, both for its durability and colour variation. The warm tones compliment the predominantly brick architecture but also bring together other architectural materials such as cropped and flamed Portington granite setts in historic marine area to create an attractive floor plain that doesn’t compete with the buildings. It provided flexibility in terms of unit sizes, allowing for greater design freedom to adjust to the many different scenarios that were accounted. Five hundred linear metres of granite kerbs and accessory details were also used together with 15,000m2 of Kellen Lavaro paving and 2000m2 of Hardscape’s Prima Porphyry from Italy.

There are several major Artscape features including lettering around the central water feature; stainless steel strip within the paving where the old castle walls once stood including also braille paving.

The challenges
The scale of the project and the timescale for design and construction placed a great deal of importance on the specification and delivery of material. The volume of material required for site also posed logistical issues in the management and manoeuvring of stocks throughout the site. Over 45,000m2 of stone was laid over a 18 month period.

The complexity of working in city centres and the immovable end date, presented by the start of the City of Culture celebrations, meant that expedient delivery of stone was absolutely critical. The volume of material and speed of installation placed additional strain and emphasis on quality control for works on site.

Measures were taken by Hull City Council and the design team to tender and order materials ahead of contractor appointments to ensure the construction programme was adhered to.

The end result
On completion, the city centre has been thoroughly transformed. Footfall has increased by 11% and over 30 new businesses have opened since the completion of the works. Anecdotally, there have been many stories about the pride that local people now have in their city centre. The new streets and spaces have already hosted a number of small and large scale events, which have captured the imagination of the local public and tourists alike. Spaces such as Queen Victoria Square and Trinity Square are now destinations in their own right, drawing visitors and providing a reason for them to stay and spend time in the city centre.

The most significant sign that the project has been a success is the number of people who now linger in the city centre – people are using the streets and squares as places to stop and spend time.

All in all an incredible project that Hardscape had the privilege and pleasure to contribute towards and congratulations to all concerned, namely Hull City Council, Re-form landscape architects, Eurovia UK contractors and Arup engineers, who helped to make Hull City Centre a huge success.