'Create a place to snog': now we reveal vision to transform city's Trinity Square
THE architectural firm which successfully redesigned Nottingham's Old Market Square has won a competition to bring its inspiration to bear on Trinity Square. London firm Gustafson Porter has drawn up the winning design for Trinity Square. It will be implemented later this year at a cost of up to £500,000.
The existing square, only four years old, earned the wrath of city council leader Jon Collins and he was supported by many in his views.
Essentially designed by committee, the street furniture, lighting, blocks of stones echoing the earlier tombstones of Holy Trinity Church failed to inspire the public.
None of this was helped by a contemporary nondescript building to the north of the square which does little to encourage footfall.
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Peter Bishop, the former design director for London and a visiting professor at Nottingham Trent University, condemned Trinity Square as one of the worst examples of modern planning and design he had seen.
In a playful manner, he challenged the powers to stage a competition.
"Have fun...and create a place to snog," he said.
The local authority rose to the challenge and adjoining property owners joined the judges, choosing Gustafson Porter.
Director Neil Porter was clearly thrilled to win and continue a theme developed for the Old Market Square.
"It is lovely to do work in this country," he added.
"The challenge of the space is that, in the evenings especially, it becomes a dark, dingy, corner of the city, mostly because the lighting is not good.
"It has no flexibility because of the big stone tombs in the centre.
"Poor lighting and lack of flexibility was marginalising the square and making it unusable.
"It should be a really lively square at the end of Forman Street, a fantastic street with all its restaurants. Instead, you end at a full stop with no action. It feels wrong and full of disappointment."
What is the solution?
Mr Porter said: "We have overcome it by looking very carefully at the levels in Trinity Square. The whole space slopes down towards the curved form of the building owned by Aviva.
"There is no resting place. People sit on the tombstones either hunched up at one end or with their legs dangling at the other.
"We have to readjust the levels so there is a nice, settled, flat surface so that when people do want to occupy the space with, say, restaurant tables, or watch an event, they have a nice, settled surface.
"The space is orientated to create a flat area in front of the curved building with a view towards the south-west corner.
"It will be the highest point in the space where we will create a platform for events. It will not feel prescribed but has the potential to be a good space for performances, such as an annual festival."
The surface paving will be the same or similar to the Old Market Square, continuing the theme already repeated in Sneinton Square, adjoining the Victoria Leisure Centre.
The designs propose clever lighting, removing lighting columns regarded as more appropriate for dual carriageways.
Trees will help mask the blandness of the curved building.
"We are now looking at placing trees adjacent to the facade of the curved building so it creates a green backdrop, softening the whole space, stopping it from looking too hard."
The original Gustafson Porter proposal envisages a soft mesh suspended from the flying buttress of the curved building.
The mesh would support climbing plants and lighting and was met enthusiastically. During the day, the planting would provide a soft backdrop for the square.
There is some disappointment that it is still not agreed with Aviva, despite broad support from the judges.
There are two elements to the proposals – the surface with benches and platform, and what to do with the buttresses of the Aviva building. Whether the mesh climber goes ahead or the buttresses are removed has yet to be decided in talks between the city council and Aviva.
The judges included Les Sparks, a former commissioner of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and of English Heritage; Clare Andrews, of Aviva; Suzanne Green, of The Cornerhouse leisure complex, on Forman Street; and city council leader Jon Collins, who chaired the panel.
Mr Collins said he was pleased with what he had seen of Gustafson Porter's scheme . "It was the best in my view and that seemed to be the general consensus.
"I liked that it will echo elements of the Old Market Square; that will bring some consistency across the city.
"I liked the simplicity of what Gustafson Porter are proposing. It seemed to have that mix of simplicity and quality that we need to encourage.
"The scheme is very do-able. It will have a sense of place."
Mr Collins, a long-standing critic of what is in Trinity Square, said that although it hadn't cost the authority anything, agreeing the scheme was "hardly our finest hour".
"People take decisions with the best of intentions but it hasn't worked out," he said.
"It is right that if we can get funding from outside sources to improve Trinity Square and create the kind of environment we want to inspire to across the city, that we do that.
"The Market Square is a standard and Sneinton Square is a scheme of the right kind of calibre. We just need to make sure that, as we continue with the development of the city centre, that is what we are aiming for.
"It is that simple quality and functionality and that is what the proposals for Trinity Square bring."
Although Aviva joined the judges (it has yet to decide what to do with the curved building in its ownership) MrCollins said the company shared the city's aspiration.
"There are still some details of how the existing architecture fits in with what we are looking to do.
"Hopefully, these are details and we can agree to take the whole thing forward as a shared scheme between us.
"Ultimately, it is really important Aviva is on board with this because they are the owners of the adjoining development.
"If we have a standard and get the scheme right, then it benefits Aviva as well. The investment will make a difference to their scheme and its profitability."
Mr Sparks helped the judges choose the Gustafson Porter proposal.
"It was head and shoulders above all the rest," he said. "They produced a really fine concept for the paving and seating which very much complemented what they have done in Old Market Square.
"It is nice to have a theme running through the city. They also produced a fantastic idea for the framework on the face of the Aviva building."
Mr Sparks said that although the frame in front of the Aviva building was "not particularly wonderful", it presented an opportunity to screen an ugly building with something "delightful".
"Take the frame away and we are left with an ugly building," he said.
Find out which design you voted for back in October here.