Monday, August 09, 2010

Regenerating the Heart of Bradford - Part Three

Bradford as I have stated previously is at an important point in its architectural development. We are about to rebuild parts of the city that will stay with us for a few decades at least. I for one see no point in building another mini-Meadowhall. Why have cotton when you can have silk? Bradford needs to strike out. Be different. Be confidant about itself. Ignore the naysayers, most of whom hide behind anonymity and multiple allegiances.

It can do this through building something in the city centre that is unmissable. That if people are coming up north, then they must visit, because it has to be seen. Not avoided at all costs. The Spice project (in the style of the Eden project but about spices) as mentioned previously, perhaps in the Odeon, could be one such project to add to the National Media Museum and Bronte Country. Moving some of the Eastern collections from the National Museums could be another. The V and A's Islamic art gallery is outstanding and led Simon Jenkins to ask whether the Ardabil carpet is the most beautiful object in London. The V and A is not ashamed of Islam, the British Museum is not ashamed of Islam, the Science Museum is not ashamed of Islam, but it seems that we are ashamed here. Or perhaps that our shame prevents us from stepping up to celebrate what could be if we collectively allowed it.

And then we need to consider what our main square will become as it stands empty today. A bland, modernist repeat of consumer-lite. Please, someone with power and vision step forward and change the direction of travel.

Beauty. Any decent city has some aspect of beauty. Bradford has more than its fair share. People raise their eyebrows when I mention this. But it clearly does, Bradford on a sunny day looks spectacular with mid-afternoon sun striking the yellow sandstone across the city. Concrete is less reflective of the glories of the sun. Bradford needs to see this beauty first and then be willing to build more. Here, I dare to point to two mosque constructions in Bradford. The first in Westgate and second in Horton Grange. Both are beautiful and add strikingly to the city, but they were both made in the last few years, not a hundred years ago. And not by graduates with urban planning degrees, but by people who used to work in the mills and still love this city. That is, that the people who built them had enough appreciation of beauty to make it a reality with their own hands and pockets. So Bradford has to first of all see the beauty that lies within it and then imagine it for its own future.

Any great city is about planning which includes the consideration of the eyeline from different vantage points in the city. This is where my despair with the current planners becomes more acute. The new bus shelter opposite City Hall hides City Hall, obscures it from view, as if it doesn't matter whether you can see it. The Impressions gallery was built a few years ago and as you reach the end of Thornton road it cuts out City Hall again from your view. It's unfair to compare Bradford to Istanbul but one thing about great cities like Istanbul is that the architects and planners would always consider the view and perspective of the individual as they walked around the city and its buildings. This is what makes them beautiful. At present, you can head down from Jacob's Well towards the Westfield site and there is a really nice view between St George's Hall and Britannia House up towards the Cathedral. Building the Westfield site will obscure this and hide the Cathedral.

I would like to suggest intead that the Westfield site is built up as a two storey market square that uses sandstone, combines Victorian Bradford style architecture with some Islamic themes such as arches and covings (think Cordoba and Grenada). If some planners in the past had the poor judgement to knock down the Swan Arcade, then why can we not have the good judgement to build something similar? The square would surround a small park with fountains and trees. Prince Charles could be approached to ask if his School for Traditional Arts could help Westfield with the design. This doesn't sound as strange as it seems, the Mughal Gardens in Lister Park have been universally acknowledged as a wonderful addition. Local businesses and the larger national chains could be approached if they want to be a part of something unique. Mixing Asian businesses with larger national chains would help cohesion in the district. I have alway found it strange that the same council that inspired community cohesion as policy wishes to institutionalise economic segregation through the World Mile concept. Why not bring the succesful businesses into one place? If Westfield agreed to this then they would help build something truly remarkable.

Beauty. Culture. Cohesion. Enterprise. These should be the characteristics of whatever arises out of the city centre. Whatever it is, it will help define the future of the city.