On The Drawing Board
Urban Village Hall – Contemporary Community Centre
This project has all the qualities that we love most architecture: A dynamic client, a great site, and the opportunity to make a huge positive change for many people.
When I met the community group Parklife Heavitree, in 2009, they wanted to make the best from their community park. They comprise a group of families and friends who socialised together, with their children, in their shared public space – Heavitree Pleasure Ground, in Exeter. At weekends and after school, their kids would play on the swings or use the paddling pools, and they would perch on blankets or a solitary vandalised park bench, and think “this could be so much better”. We have worked with them and other groups since then, to produce an ambitious design for an Urban Village Hall, including a community cafe, education spaces, shared cooking spaces and more, creating and enriching connections between people, in a shared public space. Download the feasibility study for the work here.
The site is typical of the ad-hoc constructions that we see in Parks, incoherent and with no sense of spatial design, never mind landscape. For example: public toilets are 50m distant from the swings, next to a road, hidden from view, and grim. Aesthetically the conditions of the “play area” are poor: a profusion of fences and thorny hedges designed to keep kids out, or in. It is a meagre, mean offering. A patch of littered ground fenced off for kids, while dogs run free across acres of parkland.No shelter is to be had, not even a bandstand, which disappeared many years ago. For many, and particularly the parents of very young children, the decision to go somewhere else or stay at home is a simple one. Even on a summer’s day, a sensible person brings a spare jersey/blanket. On a winter day, socialising in the park entails muddy slippiness, biting cold wind, and chilblains for you or your kids.
With all this in mind, a brief started to be developed, and the huge potential for this scheme became apparent: The local Scout Group were in need of a new Hall, the Bowls Clubhouse is dilapidated. The City Council were keen for a all these parties to come together, and from all of this, a feasibility study was created, including preliminary designs for a new Urban Village Hall. We worked with Westley Design, Landscape Architects, using a CABE Spaceshaper programme to master plan the entire park, and strove to create a place in park that enhanced all that was their already, taking a developed part of the park and making it somewhere for all to use, all year round.
The preliminary Design works with the existing paddling pools, a much loved facility that is used by many on hot sunny days (i.e. 1-2 weeks per year). The pools are currently surrounded by an apron of non-slip surface that is certain to remove the skin from a toddler’s knees and hands should they fall, with a wider grassed area, fenced off from the rest of the park by gaudy railings. There is a need for separation, but also for things that could transform the current offering from one of hard, soviet-style, character-building facility, to an area that welcomes you. Our proposal is for a sculptural planter, that gives pleasant timber surfaces, places to sit, windbreaks, alcoves to hold groups so they can actually be comfortable, while kids jump and play and splash close by.
The paddling pools are but one component of a scheme that serves many purposes. A core requirement of the Parklife Group is a space to prepare food and eat together, and this is provided alongside the prime internal space, a pavilion for community use, that gives a view over the park.
Outside this we created a small piazza, elevated slightly from the paddling pools, served by a commercial cafe, and connected to community spaces that could easily accommodate weddings, music, parties – providing a fee-earning element to the scheme that will ensure the facility washes its face. The complete preliminary design proposals are extensive, and include a new scout hall and bowls club. The feasibility study can be downloaded here. Read it an enjoy.