Context & Catalyst
John Lyall


Leeds. Aerial Photo

©John Lyall

This is a talk about urban regeneration and I've called it Context and Catalyst because we're finding that in our office in London the majority of our work nowadays seems to be centred upon regenerating towns and cities. I'm first going to explain a project in Leeds which we've been working on for about 12 years now. Leeds is a busy commercial town in the north of England. The area shown in this aerial photograph is one of the most historic parts of Leeds and contains a wealth of historic buildings, back alleyways and little courtyards, but sadly the fabric is really decayed and the area has been beset by crime, prostitution and drugs, and has become really a no-go area for the people who like to enjoy a city. The task before us then was to try and resurrect this area and make it live again. We did this with the help of a commercial developer Speciality Shops Plc and their managing director who had a passion for this type of development, a chap called David Houghton. David and I worked first on the Corn Exchange which is the oval dome-shaped building right in the centre of the picture. This wonderful Grade I listed building designed by Cuthbert Brodrick in 1861 was in a very sad state of repair and just about had the corn traders still going there every Tuesday. We adapted this into what is a speciality retail centre with restaurants, and now it's full of life, full of buzz, and the com traders still do trade their corn every Tuesday. The developer needed a critical mass of property to sustain the development and the commercial life in this off-pitch area. So it was important for him to actually acquire other properties. He did this first by acquiring what is called the third White Cloth Hall which is a triangular building between the Corn Exchange and the railway viaduct. Then he actually started acquiring significant property along the street called Kirkgate which runs diagonally at the bottom of the picture in the foreground. This Kirkgate development comprises a whole cocktail of different types of buildings and vintages and rather slum dwellings. You'll also notice how the Victorian railway engineers drove a viaduct right through what was quite a neat, compact context in the pre-Victorian days, and this completely severed the area from what was down to the river, to the left of the picture. This also helped create the decline of this area of Leeds. It virtually annexed it. But now we're actually perforating through the railway arches creating a more lively through context down to some very good developments on the river.


Leeds. Corn Exchange. Interior

©John Lyall

And now we are going to go into the Corn Exchange. The most impressive thing about the Corn Exchange is the interior. The vast domed structure of the roof has a north light and a central light which actually takes daylight onto the com-traders. In the foreground of the photograph you can see the original black com-traders' stands. When we took on this building there was a basement down below which no-one had ever really seen. It was important for our client commercially to actually make the basement work with the rest of the development. We were then able to cut a 15m diameter hole in the floor and put new staircases in to actually get down into the basement and give three levels of retail trading all working together. The centre has been a phenomenal success. It is fully let, with shops and restaurants, and is full of life and has become a big attraction for the people of Leeds. Our approach to the restoration of the building was to be faithful totally to the original design from the ground floor concourse upwards, and we did as much research into the original details as we could. But down below in the basement we adopted a more contemporary style of architecture and design for shop fronts and openings and the fittings that we've provided down there.

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