Landmark’s junior Landscape Design team recently took part in a RIBA competition that invited ideas to regenerate a derelict site in Leicester. In partnership with Leicester City Council, RIBA asked Architects and Landscape Architects to propose ideas that would both generate interest in the Soar Island area, and inspire potential developers to come forward with their own proposals for the regeneration of Leicester’s Waterside.
The Waterside area is a gateway to the city centre that needs significant regeneration investment to create a high quality environment linking the city centre to the waterfront. Soar Island, in the middle of the River Soar and at the historic heart of the city, is part of the Waterside regeneration area. The competition was launched to raise the profile of Leicester Waterside and the winning design will inform the final area masterplan in one of the first phases of development.
Soar Island is bounded by the River Soar to the west side and the Grand Union Canal to the east, with Rally Park, an area of recently improved open space, immediately across the Soar Lane River bridge. Connected with a network of bridges, vehicle and pedestrian, the site is just ten minutes’ walk from the city centre. The 2.15acres (0.87 ha) site is currently a mix of industrial works, open space and woodland. Leicester City Council wants to bring forward the unrealised potential of the island in the form of a mixed use development (housing, commercial, community or leisure), with high quality open space and public realm investment to give public access to the island.
The location of the island between Evan’s Weir to the south and Hitchcock’s Weir to the north creates a mix of slow flowing waters of the river and canal, deep pools and fast flowing weirs which all boost the range of urban ecology. As such, redevelopment requires a special approach that safeguards and enhances biodiversity opportunities.
The concept behind Landmark’s design for Soar Island was delivery of a strong landscape and ecological structure, underpinned by the theme of flight and flow to reflect the island’s name. The scheme balanced community need with ecological enhancement, preserving and augmenting the historic features and character of the industrial setting of the Grand Union Canal. Division of the site into landscape character areas provided distinct environments, including a variety of outdoor spaces and an environmental educational facility, within the core of the city. The central ‘Water Garden’ met the dual function of surface and grey water attenuation to serve an on-site mixed use building.
Although the brief required Equality Act compliance and emergency ingress, the island was designed as a car free zone with a hierarchy of paths for pedestrians and cyclists. Accessed from the Eastside towpath a ‘Cycle café’ with storage and maintenance facilities was included within the Wing building.
We didn’t triumph in the competition, which drew a wide range of high standard entries and was won by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects’ proposal for a mixed-use scheme of low-impact living, self-build homes, small businesses, open space and woodland . Architectural competitions are an excellent opportunity to develop interdisciplinary team skills. Landmark’s landscape architects and ecologists worked together to develop a comprehensive strategy to create high quality public realm design that embedded biodiversity and community benefit, demonstrating the Practice’ overarching philosophy of ‘landscape design with nature conservation in mind’.
To view the full range of entries, including Landmark’s, see http://www.ribacompetitions.com/soarisland/entries.html