Proposals need to encourage Hill Street, Newry's evolution

Cities are made of many parts working in conjunction to ensure the city functions, the key pieces are those for work, recreation and living. Newry has few successful pieces, perhaps closest is the collection of buildings and spaces on Hill Street near the Cathedral. 

 

Here, the scale of the street shifts, the buildings are grand, in a classical sense forming a suitable setting for the cathedral. This sense of occasion is elevated by the fact the cathedral has a proper connection to the main street of the city, in the form of its front door being on the street. This is something quite unique on the island and allows the cathedral’s interior exist as an extension of the cities public space.

 

Marcus Square is one of the few spaces in the town that allow’s life in the city, it provides benches for lunch, space for play and space for any number of public concerts and exhibitions. The strength of this square comes from the fact that it is enclosed by buildings of high quality, of particular note; the Gothic revival Danske Bank building along with the highly decorative and colourful neo-classical AIB building.

The adaption of Woolworths to house the FD offices has helped bring life back to the area, this project along with the apartment development on the site of the Royal Mail building hints at an exciting future for the town, perhaps even life after 5pm.

 

A city’s curation is a tricky task, clear goals are needed to deliver the type of city in which we want to live, work or visit. Remember this when reviewing the proposed civic centre, remember marcus square and understand some of the issues with the proposal and the potential benefits that could come from a reworking of the proposal. Above all, Newry needs a coherent strategy to guide us when projects like the civic centre, theatre and park become closer to reality.

 

Hill Street must evolve if it is to survive, online retail will make more of its building stock redundant. Reusing these as offices and homes, can in one move aid the housing crisis and ensure the future of the city without large scale reconstruction - benefitting the environment and our pocket. To encourage this evolution of our city we must ensure everything we add contributes to this goal for the city, in this case the civic centre (or anything proposed for the site) must address the issues of the dual carriageway and the desolate back land nature it has created, something which is not helpful when creating a city for people to live in. Unfortunately, the proposals presented so far do not address these issues, a large public building is the ideal catalyst for this, concerns regarding parking and budget aside this is a site which needs some attention if the city is to prosper.

 

The site is a decayed edge, it eats at Hill Street’s potential. Any proposals need to fill this, to contain and encourage Hill Streets evolution. The dual carriageway has driven this decay, its existence resulted in the treatment of this area as back of house. This condition is far from resolved in the proposal, it tries to enclose the public space with this road and the service yard of a supermarket - a far cry from Marcus Square. Along with this poorly contained public space, the civic centre building is presented as a large lump of a building, which does nothing to realise its potential to transform the publics experience of the area.

 

If, for example a thin, linear building was placed along the road, with a facade designed to dampen road noise for its inhabitants. Such a building would be environmentally friendly, using less mechanical ventilation and being entirely naturally lit, would provide a stock of future proofed and high quality office building. A building which adds to the city by enclosing the public space and disconnecting it from the negative effects of the road. This would allow Hill Street’s new inhabitants a space to breathe, provide more room for the cathedral and allow the site to be a catalyst for the regeneration of Newry.

 

Public buildings are key to Newry’s future and need to be of the highest design quality, from what we have seen from these projects are not good enough. Going forward we should look south of the border where in the early 2000’s a series of architects were appointed through design competition to deliver a series of award winning, inspiring and truly public Council Civic Centres. In Newry we don’t often get new public buildings, for those we do get we should strive for something of the highest quality, certainly higher than what has been done to date.