LEEDS – Currently in the first phase of a full-scale urban development plan, the Victoria Gate complex in east Leeds is intended to even out the imbalance of the city’s commercial presence, which has shifted predominantly to the west. The project was established by major European retail developer Hammerson, with a vision to regenerate interest in the area surrounding the Victoria Quarter. London-based architecture firm ACME has responded with a 21st century interpretation of the city’s historical civic architecture.
Anyone who has walked through the city of Leeds will have noticed its rich and diverse architectural heritage, with some 3300 separate buildings protected on the listed buildings register. Four Victorian arcades, (ca.1878–1900), are remnants of the gothic revival and embrace this architectural style with pointed archways and heightened ceilings interspersed with colourful decorations and patterns. The construction of a glass roof over a street of retail units with storefronts meant that a unique marketplace for meeting and shopping – the arcade – was created.
ACME used this nostalgic inspiration for a scheme ‘defined by its bold, contemporary exterior and a series of new streets and connections [to] reconnect disparate parts of the city’. The Victoria Gate project features three key aspects: a flagship John Lewis store, the new Victoria Gate arcades and a multi-storey car park to accommodate the expected increase in visitor traffic.
The diamond-based pattern on the exterior of the five-storey John Lewis store creates a distinguishable landmark. Fashioned from polished, reconstituted stone, the sculpted façade incorporates glass windows where internal daylighting is required and ivory coloured terracotta infills elsewhere. This design then follows through seamlessly into the new arcade to more fluently link the buildings together.
The exterior of the Victoria Gate arcade is an Art Deco-inspired pleated brick façade which creates a sculpted depth to an otherwise flat face. This echoes past buildings in the context of the site, which featured heavily textured terracotta elevations. The key characteristic of the historical arcade as a covered external street is followed through elegantly with the curved store fronts rhythmically lining the interior space of the new arcade. Supported by a slim steel construction, the glass roof sweeps over the shopping streets below to create a deliberate interior while still giving the feeling of being exposed and spacious. Additionally, the herringbone patterned stone floor – in fifteen shades of grey – allows the space to flow more naturally and opens up the space for public gathering, as well as forming a direct pathway, at various points, to the outside world.
It would be easy to leave the 800-space multi-storey car park as a neglected afterthought. However, ACME has been careful to integrate this into the overall aesthetic without issue. A series of vertical, twisted aluminium fins wrap around the structure creating a woven fabric appearance – a nod to the former textile industry in the area – which allows artificial light to streak through the gaps and illuminate the façade after dark. As well as its visual quality, the cladding also disguises the car park effectively, hiding the dull contents from passers-by and providing a more pleasing view.
The addition of the Victoria Gate complex to the existing Victoria Quarter is expected to enhance the area as a vibrant destination for shoppers. With consideration to the context of the surrounding area, ACME has developed a scheme that will complement its historical counterparts and sit sympathetically within the city of Leeds, while still shining out as a modern landmark and a vision of what is to come.
Photos Jack Hobhouse