Be Inspired: Marrying Art and Engineering

How does the vision for a 100m2 medieval-inspired piece of public art and a tactile walking museum become an integral part of a strategic regeneration project? Take six months of man power and 100 individual pieces of polished granite cut to 0mm tolerance and the result is Hardscape’s biggest and most intricate Artscape project to date.

The project:

The riverside Barons Quay development in Northwich, designed by global architecture, urbanism and design practice Broadway Malyan, marks an £80m regeneration of the town, which until ten years ago, was seriously at risk from the impact of extensive salt mining.

In 2007, a £32m programme stabilised the abandoned mines by replacing millions of litres of brine with a mixture of pulverised fuel ash, extracted brine, salt and cement, thus clearing the way for future regeneration.

Now safe for development, the landmark 180,000 sqft retail and leisure quarter is set to secure the town’s future growth and prosperity.

Developers, Cheshire West and Chester Council, commissioned Katayoun Dowlatshahi as lead regeneration artist to commemorate the town’s salt mining heritage, integrating art into the public realm.

The artist’s vision:

Talking about the project, Katayoun explained: “The public art set out to fulfill three objectives – to establish a visual presence for the archaeology of the salt mines directly below the development; to create gateways into the new site by providing a transition from the historic high street to the contemporary spaces, and to provide wayfinding markers along a route from the centre of town through to the riverside.”

“The central concept of the public art is a series of salt pillars, some as large as nine metres square being made visible in pedestrianised spaces. These pillars are marked with Royal White granite with a tooled finish in contrast to the surrounding granite, which offers a change in texture underfoot and therefore extends the tactile experience to those moving round the development. A number of pillars are also edged with in-ground white lights to provide a night time experience when walking through the site.”

“The centrepiece of this concept is an etched granite plinth, mirroring the scale and location of the original underground salt pillar nearest to the riverside. The granite centerpiece elevates the town’s heritage by depicting a number of images of the salt brine industry from the Medieval period. The etched surface was also intended to provide a tactile experience. Visitors are able to view the plinth from the first floor of the cinema or to sit on it in the courtyard.”

Marrying art and engineering:

Hardscape was commissioned by main contractor, Balfour Beatty to bring Katayoun’s vision to life as part of a £1m hard landscaping supply contract encompassing over 3000 tonnes of materials and the 100m2 centrepiece.

Anthony Collins from Hardscape said: “The beautiful granite etched centerpiece of the scheme, which Katayoun designed from a series of Medieval woodcuts of salt making is the biggest and most intricate piece of work that we have produced to date. Spanning 100m2 the piece was completed in our Long Marston depot and took over six months to design and supply. It is made up of 100 individual pieces of polished stone cut to 0mm tolerance to ensure the artwork flowed seamlessly over the surface.

“We firmly believe that our role is to bring the architects’ and artists’ vision to life – clearly mirroring initial designs and specifying a product that can do what it is intended to do, all without compromising the finer details and finish.

“We worked closely with the architects, artist and contractor from the very early design stages, well before any material was specified.

The wider project:

“This was a hugely ambitious project for us in its own right – alongside the detailed artwork commission, the scheme incorporates 14,000m2 of paving in granite and 500 linear metres of bespoke cladded steps. Alongside this we supplied 200 linear metres of ebony timber benching – the detailed design and structure layout was produced by Hardscape and then manufactured using our detailed designs.

“A lot of this project was about the finer detail which is really what makes the overall development sing. The colour of the granite was specifically selected to provide the perfect visual backdrop for not only the etched centrepiece, but also the ebony timber benches, which have turned the area into a beautiful social space.

“The resulting finish magnifies the fact that creating cutting edge projects is more than just supply of a “floor” but involves the delivery of exciting, sustainable materials that give it that edge.

“This is something that Hardscape has developed over 23 years and sets us apart from others.

“Barons Quay is a landmark development for Northwich, and for us and I am confident that it will be held up as best practice example of a relevant and expertly crafted public realm for years to come.”