Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Port Marine, Bristol

Back in the mists of time, when I was just an assistant CAD bitch at Derek Lovejoy Partnership, I can vaguely recall working up proposals for Port Marine, near Bristol. At the time it was quite a big deal - a major new housing project built on a former industrial site, that was going to be a big step up in quality from anything else done by a major housebuilder. Poundbury was very much the role model for the scheme, so we were given lots of scope for nice paving, planting and trees, whilst the architects got a big budget for porticos, quoins and neo-classical garage doors.

Thus it was with some interest that I recently went back to visit the site. Sadly, I couldn’t specifically remember ‘my bits’, but I did have a general sense of déjà vu as I looked around. It’s all a bit of a pastiche, but quite a pleasant one and somewhat unsurprisingly it’s on the Prince’s Trust list of developments that Prince Charles likes.

As you can probably see, there’s a bit of a nautical theme to the area. If the buildings were people, they’d probably be wearing a blue and white stripey top, deck shoes and possibly a neck scarf or captains hat. Quite nicely done though.

Not a great photo this, but it does show one of the green ‘squares’ which are a bit of a feature of the development.

I think in principle, these areas work well. Where they are let down is by the maintenance, particularly in the soft and planted bits, which are looking tired and unkempt. Lot’s of Marshall’s Saxon paving and Conservation kerbs!

You could make the same observation again; while the overall design is interesting, the poor state of the grass detracts from the areas appearance.

Some of the more modern town houses in the scheme.

…and it all goes a bit Poundbury!

A bit of a theme developing here; nice quality housing, rather unkempt road frontage.

I know it’s a bit twee, but I still think this is a reasonably interesting streetscene (bar the big blocky extra floor emerging from the pitched roof on the right hand side). Pastel coloured building renders all look a bit ’west coast of Ireland’ to me.

The offending, big blue block! Front gardens work well in my opinion.

I actually rather like this mini square. It’s a nice scale for the houses around it and the flowering cherries give it a different feel from the surroundings.

Another of the development’s ‘squares’. Quite a nice one actually – I’ve a feeling I designed it!

Port Marines answer to Bath’s ‘Royal Crescent’ – a curve of buildings overlooking the central greenspace. More multi-coloured render.

The central greenspace. Looking generally underwhelming and uncared for. The grotty looking, blocks of concrete were once part of the old harbour in place of more conventional park benches. Nice idea, but all looks a bit random now.

Not really looking any better from this angle. I’m not quite sure what you’re meant to do in this space?!?

The centrepiece of the park, is this Gormley-esque sculpture. In spite of my myself, I actually quite like it. I’m told it was inspired by the five radio towers which used to be a feature of the area. This was the brochure image of the development, and seemed to be widely used as an example of public art.

From the front...

Finally, I thought I’d drop in this image of the big sculpture’s mini me, which is just round the corner. It’s obviously by the same artist, and hopefully gives you a little better idea of the construction. Not sure I like it really. I think that somewhere there must be some Government guidance on public art, which states that a certain percentage MUST be made of corten steel.

I think the overall result is generally pretty pleasant, if not entirely to my taste. Unfortunately the big let down is the maintenance of the public realm and greenspaces. You can’t blame the developer for this, as it is almost certainly down to the local authority that adopted it (and no doubt charged some fat commuted sums for doing so). Interestingly, we showed a client around here as an example for the redevelopment of Llanwern steelworks, and it convinced them to look at a community interest company (CIC) rather than LA adoption. See story here.

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